Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Swimming for Self-Confidence & Fun; Guidelines for a Community-Based Swimming Program

Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Swimming for Self-Confidence & Fun; Guidelines for a Community-Based Swimming Program

Article excerpt


Guidelines for a community-based swimming program.

Jodie learned to roll over a few weeks ago. This would be routine progress for a six-month-old baby, but for Jodie it was an accomplishment comparable to running a four-minute mile. Jodie is a six-year-old girl severely afflicted with cerebral palsy.

Jodie was floating on her back in three foot deep water in a municipal swimming pool. While her instructor watched her carefully, Jodie raised her left hand in the air, one of the few controlled arm movements possible for her. This caused her to roll to the left. Then, by twisting her head and arching her back, she corkscrewed in the water and came up again on her back.

Her delight at moving her body in a controlled manner was obvious. She was giggling happily as the water streamed from her face. We all cheered as the instructor hugged the triumphant girl.

Watching the joy of a child move by herself, perhaps for the first time, is one of the rewards of participating in a swimming program for children with disabilities.

The program, staffed entirely by volunteers, is run under the auspices of the North Jeffco Metropolitan Recreation and Park District of Arvada, Colo., and the Mile High Chapter of the American Red Cross. One-hour classes are held each Saturday throughout most of the year. Emphasis is placed on teaching both children and adults with a wide range of disabilities to achieve standard Red Cross levels of swimming proficiency. Fees levied by the recreation district are nominal. Parents are responsible for bringing students to the class and for readying them for the water. The only requirement is that the student must be able to comprehend instructions.

The major focus of our program -- and the major benefit to our students -- is to make them safe in the water. By teaching our students to swim, and swim well, we are hopefully preventing future drownings. We hope to train each student to swim well enough so that an accidental dunking in deep water would not result in a tragedy. Actually, most of the advanced students are better swimmers than the average recreational swimmer. EXERCISE

Second in importance is the benefit of exercise. Children usually lead very active lives. Their high activity level builds muscles, bones and cardio-vascular capacity. Many children with disabilities are denied opportunities for exercise or their disabilities prevent them from exercising on land. Once trained, they are able to work out safely in the water, a cushioning medium. For some, water exercise may be the only unaided body movement possible. Some students have even commented: "The pool is the only place where I can walk."

Some youngsters with cerebral palsy, or other motor control impairments, cannot exercise strenuously on land for fear of falling and injuring themselves. Those who are wheelchair-bound often have not been trained in the sports that are possible for them. Children who are mentally retarded sometimes lack the attention span or grasp of rules that would allow them to participate in organized sports with other children. Because of these deficiencies, we find that many of our students have poor muscle development and lack stamina.

But most problems can be addressed with a structured swimming program. Once children are able to swim, they can exercise or be exercised safely in the pool. In the water, they are cushioned from damaging falls. Individuals who cannot use their legs can learn to do a very credible front crawl stroke, since that stroke gets little propulsion from the kick. Children with developmental disabilities can learn to swim well and most can participate enthusiastically in relay races. Adapted strokes can often be worked out for those with limited control of their muscles.

Of course, one workout per week is less than ideal. Once a student is water-safe, we encourage parents to take the child to a public swimming pool for his own exercise sessions, but this often cannot be worked into a busy schedule. …

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