In honor of Autism Awareness Month (April) and National Autism Awareness Day (April 2), Diventures is sharing the importance of swim lessons for children with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and spotlighting several Diventures swim teachers who are passionate about teaching lifesaving water safety skills to children with ASD.
Wandering is a common autistic behavior that can often lead to tragedy, and many children with ASD are enchanted and drawn to water for the calming sensory experience it provides. This combination puts children with autism at a significantly higher risk for death by drowning. A CDC-supported study done by Columbia University found that “children with autism are 160 times as likely to die from drowning as the general pediatric population.”
Dr. Li, founding director of the Center for Injury Epidemiology and Prevention at Columbia, says that “Once a child is diagnosed with autism, usually between two years and three years of age, pediatricians and parents should immediately help enroll the child in swimming classes, before any behavioral therapy, speech therapy, or occupational therapy. Swimming ability for kids with autism is an imperative survival skill.”
At Diventures, our mission is to lead the world in creating safety and fun in and around the water. Our swim teachers are passionate about fighting childhood drownings, one swim lesson at a time. We offer swim lessons to children with ASD at all our swim locations. Today, we’re highlighting a few of the incredible swim staff at our Wisconsin locations along with sharing advice for swim teachers interested in working with children who have ASD.
Aquatics Experience Manager
Swim Teacher & Lifeguard Instructor
Nathan is the Aquatics Experience Manager at our Sun Prairie location in Madison, Wisconsin. He has worked with ASD kids on and off for roughly ten years and loves every minute of it. Applying what he learned from several childhood education classes, Nathan works hard to make sure every swim lesson feels like a success for all his swim students, especially those with ASD.
Nathan preaches, “slow and steady wins the race” and wants to remind other swim teachers that even the tiniest accomplishments are still a win. Recently, one of Nathan’s swim students successfully completed her front flip after two months of practicing, surprising herself, her mother, and Nathan.
Aquatics Experience Lead & Swim Teacher
Although she might be new to the world of swimming, Marlena has over six years of experience working with individuals with disabilities and/or ASD; along with a Bachelor of Science in Human Services. Her impressive combination of higher education and hands-on experience is exactly why Miss Marlena thrives as a swim teacher for children with ASD. When asked why she loves having the opportunity to teach swimming to children with ASD, she explained her favorite part was “being able to give someone the tools to be more independent and safer while having fun in and around water”.
So far, one of her favorite memories from being a swim teacher was when a student with ASD was struggling to display big windmill arms with both arms. When her student was finally able to achieve her goal, she shouted with joy, “I did it! I did it!” and asked Miss Marlena for a hug.
Michelle has been a swim teacher at Diventures for over two years and is currently a student at the University of Wisconsin, working towards a degree in Human Development and pursuing a certificate in Disability Rights and Services. Michelle is excited to know she is helping make a difference for both her swim students and their families by teaching water safety. Her hope is that as more children with disabilities and/or ASD learn water safety, the world of swim can become more inclusive.
When reflecting on her many memorable moments as a swim teacher, Michelle thinks back to when one of her mostly non-verbal students said he was happy during his swim lesson with Michelle and asked her for a hug.
Swim Teacher, Deck Manager & Lifeguard
Cora has been a swim teacher at Diventures for almost four years and for the last two years has been teaching swim to children with ASD. Because of her experiences at Diventures, Cora realized she had a passion for working with special needs children. She loves seeing her swim students gain confidence and complete skills while in the water.
Cora shared that one of her favorite memories as a swim teacher was with her swim student Hudson. “Hudson jumped in and did a big cannonball! He came back up and said, “Did you see that?” He and I both started laughing because he knew his cannonball splash drenched me!”
Advice to new swim teachers who are interested in working with children with an ASD
“Communication with the parents is the key to their child’s success in the water. Make lots of small goals and remember, any day in the water, even if you feel that it was unproductive, is still better than not being in the water at all.”
“Be present, be patient, and have fun! Everyone communicates in their own way, so as an advocate and a fellow human being, you should be willing to try and understand. Your student’s way of thinking may be different, but that doesn’t make it wrong!”
“Be patient, flexible, and resourceful. If you are unsure about how to approach a situation, just ask! Communicate with the kids and get to know them and their likes/dislikes. If the kids are too young or there is a communication barrier, then talk with the child’s caregivers. Remember that some days are easier than others but, in the end, teaching kids with ASD is a rewarding opportunity.”
“My advice is to be patient with your swim students and to make it fun while learning
important water safety skills.”