Swim program helps children with special needs

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (WLFI) – On Saturday mornings, the swimming pool at the France A. Cordova Recreational Center splashes with the sound of children learning to swim, but that sound also helps parents with children in the Special Needs Aquatic Program breathe a sigh of relief. For parent, Andrea Gilkison,  it took an alarming personal experience to realize the need for the program.

“I heard the tiniest little splash and I looked and Oliver was in the pool standing up with the lid of the pool behind his head and couldn’t get out,” said Gilkison.

It was at that moment Gilkison said she realized the need for her son Oliver, who has autism, to learn to swim.

“My biggest fear was that he would take off and I wouldn’t know it, and he would need the skills and the techniques to be able to swim,” said Gilkison.

Although drowning is one of the leading causes of death in children with autism, Gilkison wasn’t able to find a swim class to suit Oliver’s needs. That’s when she contacted Purdue University, and with assistance from volunteers, she was able to create the program. Purdue sorority Alpha Xi Delta members have volunteered by helping instructors,  who are certified lifeguards with specialized training, teach the children.

Instructor Maddi Vulanich said they work with each child individually, but with the same goal in mind.

“We want them to be able to get to the wall safely or learn to back float so that way they can know in water how to be safe,” said Vulanich.

While the program teaches the children how to swim, Gilkison said it also helps them to develop important physical and social skills.

“It’s a lot of communication, and socialization and learning that whole right brain-left brain dual body motion. It makes so many good connections and allows them to do other things like write better and read better,” said Gilkison.

Vulanich said the progress she’s seen in the children, so far, is unreal.

“It’s just incredible to see them go from jumping and not doing anything in the water, to slowly picking up skills that they can use,” said Vulanich.

For Andrea Gilkison and her son Oliver, the class is a win, win.

“Kids love it, we love it. Winners for everyone,” said Gilkison.

For more on how to become involved with the Special Needs Aquatic Program, contact Andrea Gilkinson at gilkison519@gmail.com.

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