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Swim safety classes aim to arm children with autism with lifesaving skills – NBC 6 South Florida | #schoolsaftey

Splashing around in Hollywood’s Driftwood pool is essential for a class of first grade children with autism.

They’re taking advantage of Broward County’s SWIM Central program, which offers elementary school students free water safety lessons.

“She was never afraid, she loves the water, she’s not afraid of nothing. So you want her to be safe,” says one father in the pool with his daughter.

The lessons are especially important for kids with autism. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a child with autism is 160 times more at-risk of drowning than a typically developing child.

“They’re attracted to water, they may not recognize the hazard, and they may not understand the danger,” said Jay Sanford with Broward County Parks & Recreation SWIM Central program. “So it’s important that not only do we educate and expose them to what water is and how water works, but that if they can learn the skills to get back and grab the wall. If they find themselves (in water), do the jump, turn, kick and get back to the wall that’s going to help them in the long run because we know these kids are at risk.”

The program teaches kids at community pools all over Broward County.

Special needs teacher Rachel Zuleda didn’t hesitate to get in the water along with her students, because she knows how critical the lesson is.  

“The biggest thing is just to get them in, get them exposed. Even if they’re crying the whole time it’s just going to desensitize them to the water because it’s such an important life-saving skill,” said Rachel Zuleda, teacher at Driftwood Elementary School.

Autism classes are small with an almost one-to-one ratio of adults to students to allow for more individual attention and time for repetition.

“A lot of it is the same behavior strategies that we use in the classroom. We use patience, positive praise, redirection and trying to narrate what we’re doing while we are doing it,” said Zuleda.

“Autistic children can swim, autistic kids are going to be drawn to the water, the more you can get them in the water the better off it will be,” said Sanford.

Helping parents of fearless kids rest a little easier.

“Safety wise and living wise, I’m not going to be here forever so they have to learn and that’s what we are here for,” said one parent.

Swim safety classes are available to children no matter their ability, no matter where they are on the autism spectrum. There are also coupons available to help cover the cost of private lessons. For more information visit www.Broward.org/parks/pages/swimcentral.aspx

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