Swimming program for kids with autism wraps up third year at Fairway pool

Photo courtesy Greg Peters, University of Kansas Medical Center
Photo courtesy Greg Peters, University of Kansas Medical Center

Summer is coming to a close, and with it the third consecutive year of the sensory support swimming program for children with autism at the Fairway pool. This year, 20 kids from across the metro and beyond took part in the program. We caught up with program director Lisa Mische Lawson of the University of Kansas Medical to find out a little more about the program and what it does for the kids.

What are some of the benefits of the program for participants and their families?

LML: The greatest benefit is that children are learning water safety and swimming skills. We survey parents after each session, and they tell us children also sleep better, eat better (children with autism have very selective food choices) and are calmer after lessons. There are also little things that are individual to each child. A parent recently shared that her son was afraid to go out in the rain until he had swim lessons. One of our swim families brought the entire family (brother, sister, parents, grandparents, etc…) to watch their child swim because they could support him like they did the other kids in sports. Swimming is a lifesaving skill, lifelong physical activity, and a family leisure activity, so it brings many benefits to our participants.

What do you find most rewarding about the program?

LML: Children with autism have challenges with communication, so it is incredibly rewarding to connect with them. You can see the light in their eyes when what you are trying to teach finally “clicks.” As much as I love being the person to make that happen, I am finding it even more rewarding to train instructors to have those moments. I love to see their excitement when they connect with their swimmer and help them progress their swim skills. To reach more swimmers, we need more good teachers. It is incredibly rewarding to see swim instructors enjoy working with kids with autism and their families.

You can watch a video of the instructors and students in action here.