By Eric Poniatowski
The Jewish Community Center of Greater Buffalo (JCC) Holland Family Building is providing children in Western New York diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) with a unique swim program, Au-Some Swimmers. It is designed to teach critical life skills and provide a gathering place for families to connect and support each other. Au-Some Swimmers began in July 2013 as a collaboration between the JCC and the Children’s Guild Foundation Autism Spectrum Disorder Center at Women and Children’s Hospital of Buffalo, a multidisciplinary center for evaluation and diagnosis of ASDs in Western New York.
Au-Some Swimmers is offered year round and has been supported by grants from multiple generous organizations over the past two years. They include the Variety Club of Buffalo, Erie County Youth Bureau, Doug Flutie Jr. Foundation for Autism, and Autism Speaks. In Au-Some Swimmers, the child receives a private swim lesson, however it not just a program for the child; Au-Some Swimmers is for the whole family! Parents and siblings are invited into the pool to help with the swim lesson. The family is also welcome play together in the pool after the lesson.
Since 2013, 60 children have participated in Au-Some Swimmers, and 90% of the participants have enrolled in multiple sessions. For safety, all Au-Some Swimmers instructors are American Red Cross Lifeguard, First Aid, CPR, AED certified and embrace the unique opportunity they have at the JCC. “Teaching a child diagnosed with autism requires patience and the ability to adapt when the lesson does not go as planned” comments instructor Laura Prendergast. “My students have become more comfortable in the water and in many cases strong independent swimmers.”
Half hour swim lessons are offered on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays. The curriculum of Au-Some Swimmers follows the American Red Cross Learn to Swim Program. The instructors demonstrate skills such a feet first entry, putting face in the water, kicking, and pulling. The instructors also communicate with children using laminated visual cards that illustrate pool safety and swim skills. Relationship building and social interaction are key aspects of Au-Some Swimmers; each week the child works with the same instructor.
Larkin Walling, who is 14 years old, has attended Au-Some Swimmers since the summer of 2014. “Our entire family loves this program. All of the staff at the pool are friendly, fun, and genuinely care about the work that they do with our children” says Larkin’s mom Kerrin Walling.
Au-Some Swimmers mom Dana Marciniak agrees. “This program gives my 5 year old son, Ian, and so many other children who live with autism, the opportunity to not only learn to swim, but develop life-saving skills on their terms surrounding by people who fully support them. I feel extremely lucky to have a program like Au-Some Swimmers in our area and would love to see more children have the chance to experience what we have.”
Au-Some Swimmers takes place at 787 Delaware Avenue: Buffalo, NY 14209. For more information please contact Eric Poniatowski, Aquatics Director, at firstname.lastname@example.org or (716) 886-3172 x 411.