Aquatastically Adapted by Ronda Brodsky, MS
I have always been taught to treat, and teach, everyone with respect. Age, race, and religion only make people unique. Every person should be treated the same way that you would like to be treated, which is also known as the Golden Rule. On the same line of thinking, the pool should be a safe environment for all to enjoy.
Swimming offers some unique opportunities. The values of swimming fall into three main categories: physiological, psychological, and sociological (Amateur Swimming Association l989). There are few other sports that provide the opportunity for worthwhile and enjoyable participation for such a wide range of the community. It is imperative that all means be utilized to encourage access to those of all ages and ability levels. With few barriers to taking part, swimming is a lifelong activity and one that can be performed indoors or outdoors, dependent upon where you live (Aquatastic: Swimming Made Simple.)
Exercise offers similar psychological benefits to individuals of all abilities. The main value comes from experiencing success. Everyone needs the opportunity to do something well and to enjoy the feeling of achievement. Within the structure of today’s society, this is of special importance to individuals with impairments or disabilities. A well-planned aquatic activity can provide goals that are trainable for all. Opportunities for success should be a part of every aquatic experience.
Sociological values are enhanced through peer group interaction, normalization, and safety. Swimming can provide opportunities for interaction, acceptance, and learning of appropriate social behaviors such as sharing and waiting one’s turn. Normalization is needed because categories and labels often serve to focus attention on a limitation, rather than on the individual. Swimming programs teach water adjustment, safety skills, and swimming skills. They also unquestionably enhance the safety of the individual and their family when enjoying activities in or around any aquatic environment. This is a great social benefit, and it should be the main goal to any swimming program.
Many individuals with special needs are attracted to the awe of the water. Therefore, I believe water safety and basic swimming skills are imperative an early age. I was working at a facility with a preschool that had a pool and offered swimming to all students. I felt it was my duty to make sure that all these children could swim and be safe in the water. This was also one of the most enjoyable parts of my day. The students were generally so excited to see me and be in the pool. I started working with Nash at the age of four and we had an instant connection. This started a true bond of friendship that continues to this day (he is now almost 15).
Most people are curious about water at an early age if exposed to this unique environment. Children, for the most part, do not have fears other than the ones they are taught. This is why I believe in teaching children to swim as early on as possible in a safe way. My philosophy is that of swimming and physical activity are FUNdamental, therefore I focus on the fun. People like and will repeat something that is rewarding. Aquatics can fulfill this for all individuals. The instructor should be aware of the safety of all participants and recognize that modifications may be required. Other key teaching concepts for a successful program include simple verbal directions and clear visual cues and demonstrations, supplemented with encouragement, enthusiasm, patience, creativity, and ingenuity. Swimming skills may need to be broken down into simple components so students can readily experience success. As with most physical activities, the easier the skill the greater the chance for success.
Working with Nash, my job was easy. Not only was it fun for him, but the water gave him a sense of fulfillment and safety. As the other students saw how much fun he was having, they began to trust me enough to also try the skills. I have worked with Nash over the past 10 years, and it is an honor knowing that I was the one who introduced him to this wonderful environment. This is his happy place where he can be himself and do what he wants. It is a judgement-free zone, as it should be for everyone.
I saw Nash at the beginning of the summer; it was as if we talked every day. He took my hand as we walked to the pool. Once in the pool, he took my hands to show me what he wanted. I love the look on his face as he enters this environment – it is pure joy. I look forward to working with Nash and everyone else who needs that joy in their life.
Now just imagine what you can do! Make the effort to adapt swimming skills for those with special needs – I promise you will receive as great a reward as your students. Hop in and remember that swimming is FUNdamental.