Swimming program teaches children with autism skills to save their own lives

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. — The awful news about the drowning of the five year old Harrisonville boy has left many shaken up. However there’s a program that exists to help prevent this from happening to other children with autism.

Through a grant, the University of Kansas Department of Occupational Therapy Education has developed a program that teaches children with autism how to swim.

“He loves the water, and this is something he can enjoy,” said Alison Moore, who put her seven-year-old son in swimming lessons for the first time last summer.

“We had him in regular swimming lessons and he was not learning the way I wanted him to learn how to swim, and I knew he could learn to swim,” Moore added.

Moore says she tried everything and nothing worked until she found Sensory Supported Swimming, a swimming and water safety program for children ages four to 17 with Autism Spectrum Disorders.

“That sensory part he craves, and he’s always craved since he was a baby,” Moore said.

“We noticed a lot of families wanted their children to be able to swim, had concerns with water safety, but didn’t have access to lessons, especially affordable lessons,” said Lisa Mische Lawson, a certified recreational therapist, an Associate Professor at the University of Kansas Medical Center, and the Director of Sensory Supported Swimming.

“Kids with autism tend to have different ways of processing sensory information,” Mische Lawson said.

After doing research a couple years ago with families who had children with autism, she and others at the University of Kansas Medical Center sought grant funding from Autism Speaks, a sponsor for autism research.

“We may be trying to give them instruction, and they might not be able to process that,” said Mische Lawson. “We have the supports in place to support them to learn in their best way.”

Moore says she wanted her son to safely enjoy swimming and have confidence, and says he’s improved tremendously in the last year.

“He’s comfortable in water; he knows how to float now. He was always afraid to float on his back, he can float on his back, he knows how to tread water now,” said Moore. “He loves it so much that when he’s in it, he knows how to act.”

Mische Lawson says they can’t reach as many families as they would like because there are not enough instructors that are qualified to teach this unique population.

For more information on this program CLICK HERE.


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