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June 2024

Provider of the Month

Swimming Buddies

Northern Ireland

Tell us a bit about you and your background...

My name is Sarah Jane Reynolds, I share my life with two daughters Katherine & Juliet, my husband Stuart, and our slightly goofy chocolate Labrador named Riley.

I love good food, camping and spending time outdoors. I've been involved in swim school management for more than 15 years after a corporate career in marketing.

Through my experience in mainstream swim schools and interactions with family and friends affected by autism, I noticed a lack of specialised services for neurodivergent children. After further research, I was shocked to learn from Autism Swim that over 90% of children under 14 who have had a water-based incident are diagnosed with autism, and that neurodiverse children are 160 times more likely to experience such incidents.

Driven by a passion to reduce these statistics Swimming Buddies was opened in 2017 offering inclusive swim sessions. We started with one class a week and have now expanded to five across three locations.

Why did you choose to become Autism Swim Approved and what are the greatest benefits you've found since doing so?

In 2017, there were no inclusive swim services for children in Europe, so we became the first Autism Swim School accredited programme here. We've been a gold standard member for six years now.

We were also the first to use the online portal for coach training and continue to do so today. We believe this training is fundamental to everything we do at Swimming Buddies. Our goal is to equip our coaches with the best foundation for working with our Buddies, particularly in the water, which is where Autism Swim excels.

It is the only dedicated water-based training program for aquatics professionals globally, and its continuously updated practices and resources are invaluable to our team's ongoing development.

Without a doubt, the Autism Swim training strengthens our staff's knowledge, keeps our coaches accountable, and provides a wealth of expertise that helps us tailor our services to our Buddies and their families. Ultimately, it supports the ongoing professional development of our team, making it a family we are proud to be part of.

What sort of feedback have you received since putting the skills you learned into practice?

Being gold standard accredited with Autism Swim gives our families confidence that we have the knowledge and skills to deliver excellent and adaptable services for our Buddies.

No other provider globally possesses the expertise that Autism Swim has. Our Buddies are ever-changing, and the wealth of resources Autism Swim provides reflects that. The visual aids are practical, useful, and engaging, allowing us to tailor our program to each Buddies individual needs. 

One particularly invaluable resource for our coaches is the "what to do when" sections, which feels like having a friend in your pocket to consult for advice.

Because of Autism Swim, our parents can feel reassured in situations that often present many unknowns. It’s wonderful to provide them with the confidence that we are supported by a strong, passionate, accredited training platform.

What advice can you give to other aquatic providers looking to become more inclusive?

Build your service with the neurodiverse child at its centre, only by prioritising inclusion from the beginning can we truly deliver services for everyone.

The Year 1 Autism Swim course will equip your teams with the knowledge to become more inclusive. We have less experienced coaches starting with this training as their first piece of education, which ensures they are prepared to support our Buddies effectively.

As a business owner, it gives me confidence that we are cultivating the best coaches in the most inclusive environment possible.

As our coaches gain more experience and knowledge in the water, their development is further supported by the strength of the Autism Swim training. So, take the leap. It's a fantastic programme.

Do you have a favourite inclusion quote or analogy?

One of my favourite quotes is: "Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance."

This resonates deeply with our approach at Swimming Buddies. We actively support each family who comes to us and with the right tools and environment, our Buddies can achieve anything. 

Swimming Buddies - Fun & Friendship through Swimming 

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