Falling through the Cracks

Special Needs Swimmer

When Declan was in grade school, we knew that soccer was not in the cards.  As much as we wished that he could participate in the sport, or any other group sport, we knew it would be difficult for him.  It wasn’t a matter of his ability to kick and run; in fact, he was a pretty coordinated kid.  Instead, it was the ability to know which way to head to score a goal, being able remember and spot the members of his team, keep strategy in mind, and then kick and run.  Worse, because he looked like a typical kid, his teammates became even more frustrated and angry with him when he made a mistake.  He still laments about the time he hit a baseball and mistakenly ran to third base rather than first.  The boys on his team shouted at him, and because of his inability to read social cues, he became even more upset at what always felt like negative attention.

Then we decided to sign Declan up for sports and activities offered to kids with special needs.  That too failed, as the rest of the children participating were much lower functioning, and the expectations and level of play was so low that it failed to be interesting or challenging for him.  ”Where does he belong?” is a question we constantly asked ourselves.  We wondered what he could possibly do that could more closely matched his abilities and could give him an experience that would present more opportunities to socialize with peers.

Finally, I decided to sign him up for swimming.  Declan had already taken a year’s worth of of aquatic therapy with Angelfish, but had soon graduated from their curriculum.  He needed to take the next step: learning the strokes and being with typical peers.  When I signed him up for lessons at the Y, they stuck to their lock and step process of moving kids through the levels (minnow, shark…), and the instructors did not know how to engage Declan.  They kept trying to fit him into the mold of their pre-made lessons and it wasnt working.

It wasn’t until I made a call to Children of the Sound that I saw a glimmer of hope.  ”He has learning delays,” I remember telling the person on the other end of the phone.  ”He has trouble listening, remembering, executing, maintaining attention…”  That is when Lyes, owner of Children of the Sound responded, “so he’s a boy.”  I couldn’t believe how this statement cut my skepticism in half; was it possible that this man would be able to meet my son’s needs?

Declan proceeded to take lessons with Lyes.  As I took on my usual role of explaining to an instructor what Declan could or could not do, Lyes stopped me.  ”From now on,” he said, “Declan speaks for himself.” I was thrown at the comment which felt more like a command, but after several lessons in, I realized that Lyes was just what my son needed.

Lyes had no training in special education, but remarkably, he was doing for my son what no one else could; he was teaching my son, in his no nonsense style, how to participate in a mainstream sport.  Even more, he was simultaneously working on Declan’s therapy needs.  I watched every lesson and saw that while Declan was learning to swim butterfly, he was making advances in speech and language, executive functioning, and occupational therapy goals to name a few.  It wasn’t until I pointed this out that Lyes learned the impact that he was having on Declan beyond swimming.

What was more miraculous is that Declan was becoming an excellent swimmer.  I was so overjoyed that I felt the compulsion to spread the word.  I knew that there were so many kids out there like Declan that craved this kind of extra-curricular experience; an experience that was not too high functioning nor too low functioning, and one that would build a bridge for Declan toward a mainstream sport. I insisted that Lyes try to reach more of these families, and eventually partnered with Children of the Sound to invite more high functioning kids to the program.  ”Different Strokes” is what we nicknamed this endeavor, though in the end, we decided that swimming with Children of the Sound was not two separate schools; rather than dividing our services between mainstream and special needs, we simply came to the notion that there was no difference.  All swimmers fell somewhere on a spectrum whether they had special needs or not – a good instructor would always just see where each child was and move them to the next step.  Rather than a strict series of levels, the instructors would treat each child individually in private and small group lessons that would eventually land all students, mainstream and special needs, swimming side-by-side in truly inclusive clinics.

My son has never been the same since Children of the Sound.  Today, he sees himself as a capable, even accelerated swimmer, and will be on the Staples High School swim team when he enters high school next year.  Looking for an extra-curricular that is truly inclusive and empowering? Call Children of the Sound today.

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