It started with a small idea, an alarming statistic and my love for swimming. Combining these 3 things has changed my life and the lives of many people living with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
My name is Cindi Green. I live in Miramichi, New Brunswick, Canada and I’m a single Mom of two adult children. I’ve worked in the field of Early Childhood Education for over 30 years and entered the field of autism 16 years ago. This was a turning point in my life and my career. When I began working as the Executive Director of a community autism resource center, I was also working as a lifeguard supervisor at a local pool, as well as a swim team coach, and immediately linked these together.
I began chatting with parents, asking them if their children like water and enjoy swimming. I then began to ask if they had tried our local swimming program. Based on the answers to these questions, I knew what needed to be done.
During my research, I found Autism Swim, Australia and recognized that I could make this new dream a reality. I found a grant proposal and with some enthusiastic support from Go New Brunswick, I sourced funding to become certified and create an instructional autism swim program.
Because of the strong attraction to water that is known about people on the autism spectrum, I could envision the impact and benefits for children, youth and their families. This was, and remains, an important challenge that I know we can address, one safety rule at a time. Our program’s primary focus is drowning prevention. If we can prevent one child from entering unknown water by teaching, ‘always wait for permission before entering,’ then we will have been successful!
The greatest benefits we’ve seen are growth in getting comfortable with not being able to touch the bottom, children learning they always need to swim with another person, learning to climb along the side of the pool, learning to walk on the deck, floating on their front, and back, and rotating, all of which lead to safer experiences as we help this demographic learn vital drowning prevention skills.
The feedback from parents has been powerful and passionate:
“The one-on-one support is critical for de-escalating water anxiety and enhancing positive water exposure in a safe environment. It allows for personal focus on swimming skills for children who have difficulty mimicking motor skills and following complex or even 'simple' directions. For us as a family, the inclusive nature of the program and mixed classes also make transgender a non-issue. Our child loves the autism swim program, and it would be greatly missed if it became unavailable due to lack of support.”
My advice to other aquatic providers is simply this:
Ask yourself, ‘Why wouldn’t I become an Autism Swim Provider?’ The skills, knowledge and awareness you’ll gain are impactful and beneficial to all that you work with, and the experience can be life-changing.
True inclusion means believing that every person can achieve their full potential. Using the social model of the term ‘disability’ allows us to see barriers as problems that can be solved. Once we solve the problems, inclusion is achieved and everyone is able to participate. We change disability to ability for every person.