New opportunities for children with special needs swim onto campus

By Jane Lee

To provide children with special needs the opportunity to learn how to swim, four University students created Swimable, a program geared toward offering resources that were not readily available to children with special needs.

Swimable offered its first swim lessons for children with special needs Friday at the Campus Recreation Center East pool, said Chelsea Fry, president of Swimable and senior in Social Work. Fry said she and her cofounders came up with the idea during a social work class last year.

These lessons are taught by a team of certified swimming instructors and held every Friday and Saturday until early May.

Swimable emerged from the idea of creating a swimming program that uses resources at the University to teach students with special needs how to swim while helping them excel in higher levels of swimming, Fry said.

Fry said there aren’t many resources for children with special needs to learn life skills or to participate in a unique environment.

Efthemia Tounas, swimming instructor and junior in AHS, said she hopes to develop a relationship with her students and make them more comfortable with the water.

Shannon Mix, swimming instructor and freshman in Education, said the happiness she sees in the children motivates her to teach. She said this program is beneficial for children with special needs who have weaker muscle strength because it helps them be more comfortable in the water and around people.

Fry said the University’s Campus Recreation Center is the best facility for Swimable due to the zero-depth ramp and wheelchair lift. She said Swimable is fortunate to have received the University’s support.

Before starting Swimable, Fry said the students looked into gaps in the community, such as the cuts being made to respite programs for families with children who have special needs.

“That’s why we’re here,” Fry said. “It was an issue we were happy to take on. I think the biggest fight that we’ve accomplished so far is we’re filling that gap now at a very well cost.”

She said she is grateful for the program because it offers resources, such as instructors with extensive training on how to work with children with special needs, that were not available to the children and their families before.

“First with our training, we did weeks of out of the pool training that covered everything from different disabilities we could encounter,” Fry said. “We had lessons in autism spectrum and different developmental displays, (and) Down syndrome.”

Fry said instructors learned which types of swim lessons would be most effective with the children, as well as first aid, seizure protocols, meltdown protocols and other proactive lessons.

Once children establish familiarity with certain instructors, Fry said, they try to keep them paired with the same instructor to allow familiarity, which allows for a more comfortable environment.

“I think just as a collective, having that rotation, helps it become really cohesive,” Fry said. “ It really helps with the instructors owning it and the students really feeling like they’re a part of something big.”

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