SWIM Central Success Stories – Special Needs Fall 2013

SWIM Central Success Stories – Special Needs

Drowning is the number one cause of accidental death in children with autism. Many children with autism are instinctively drawn towards water with a natural fascination. In one week’s time in 2013, three deaths of young children with autism were reported nationwide. In Collier County in June, a girl with autism managed to slip away unnoticed by her family and fall into a retention pond across the street from her home. That child was found in time and survived.

River Park Community Center, under the leadership of Recreation Supervisor Lynn Clarke, has adapted SWIM Central Program for the autistic community. “SWIM Central is a two-week, 10-day program for 30 minutes each day.”  This program will teach children (disability or not) the techniques they need to save themselves, in addition to developing their motor and social skills. Fall in (jump in), turn around and get to the safe place (wall, shore, boat, life saver).

In October  22 children with varying disabilities (including Autism, ADHD, Cerebral Palsy, visual impairments and blind) participating in Swim Central at the River Park Aquatic Center.

Here some of the success stories of the program this semester:


My Own Story – My name is Lynn Clarke and I am a Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist and

Water Safety Instructor with the City of Naples. I know I am not a kid in the program and I know you didn’t donate for me, however, please let me share with you what this has meant to me. I have worked with children with disabilities for the 13 years in Collier County. I have built, sustained, grown programs and connected with the children and families while doing it. All this has been successful. This program is different. In all the programs that I have run I have been improving kids lives. I have improved speech, social skills, gross motor, fine motor, life skills, sports skills, cooking skills and even given kids opportunities to just be normal kids when their lives are anything but normal. These have all been rewarding and I love what I do. Never, however, have I had the opportunity to run a program where I not only benefit kids with motor skills, social skills, fitness levels but I have also been blessed with the ability to save their life. This has brought tears to my eyes often over the last 9 months. I am passionate that this program will save lives. I am honored to be a part of that. Thank you for what you have done to make this possible.

A Child’s Story:

The scream was piercing and the “Don’t run” command was said over and over again. A nervous 7 year old boy with Autism wasn’t sure about me, the pool, the environment or the other kids. We spent the first 30 minutes together on the deck. Me sitting still with a bucket of water and a couple of toys and he would run back and forth checking it out. That day we spent 28 minutes moving closer to the pool. Our toes got wet on minute 30. We repeated this process the next day and got wet all the way up to our knees. Day 5, success…all the way up to our waist. He screamed every day. This day was especially piercing because I was holding him in the water. “All done”, “All done” over and over again. “Three things..” “Just do 3 things for me and we can be done.” 12 Minutes later we accomplished our 3 things and he ran to Mom with great purpose…getting away from me and the pool. Day 6 we did 7 things, Day 7 we did 10 things. Day 8-9…I didn’t have to count and we made it 30 minutes in the pool…limited screaming. Day 10…he swam. The kid that on day one only got a toe wet swam 10 feet from the wall to me. He stopped screaming, he pushed off the wall and he swam all the way to me. Did he reach all 5 goals…no. However, I know if this kid were to fall into a body of water, he could swim. It isn’t pretty but it would save his life, and that is what it is all about.

Another Success Story: Pam DeMeo, Fire Inspector and Water Safety Instructor – City of Naples Fire Rescue Department


Liam is an eight-year-old autistic boy, a little overwhelmed the first day, I couldn’t keep him in the pool. It took four days to get him to get his hands wet and touch his face. He would not look at the instructors. However, we found out that he liked ceiling fans. We printed and laminated pictures of ceiling fans. Liam liked to look at the pictures and he would swim to get the picture. He even put his face in the water to get the picture! In the beginning, we could only work with Liam for 2-3 minutes at a time before he needed a break. The last two classes we were able to go the entire 30 minutes without stopping. In the end, Liam was able to swim the entire length of the pool to get a picture of a fan. He was able to jump into the pool, retrieve a picture and swim to a safe location.

We got ceiling fan blades and waited them down with fishing weights. We would sink these fan blades to the bottom of the pool. By the end of class Liam was diving down to retrieve the ceiling fan blades!

We were even able to get Liam to float on his back, which is especially difficult for autistic children, for a ceiling fan catalog! The amount of progress made is truly remarkable!

SWIM Central program is possible thanks to generous donations from the Naples Children & Education Foundation – Founders of the Naples Winter Wine Festival and 21st Century Oncology.

Special thanks to City of Napes- River Park Aquatic Center for making this program possible in Collier County.

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