Barbara Stapleton understands the importance of teaching children about the dangers of being around water.
That need is intensified when you have a child with autism, the Marystown mother-of-two says.
“I think it is extremely important for all autistic children to learn to swim because a lot of them are attracted to water,” she told The Southern Gazette on Tuesday, Oct. 30.
“They don’t understand the risk associated with water, and the risk of drowning is very real.”
Stapleton has an autistic son who is in swimming lessons at the YMCA in Marystown. She said she felt staff at the facility could benefit from some special training.
Stapleton said the instructors weren’t familiar with teaching autistic children to swim and didn’t have the necessary tools to teach them effectively. Training would also help the instructors better teach all people on the autism spectrum, including adults, she said.
Stapleton said she got in touch with Marystown YMCA general manager Christina Murphy, who was very receptive.
“She thought it was a great idea,” Stapleton said.
Stapleton also contacted Treshana Gosse with the Autism Society of Newfoundland and Labrador to ask if she would provide the training.
Gosse said that sometimes families with loved ones on the spectrum may avoid social situations or group activities such as swimming lessons.
“We want to make it easier for (these) families to be able to access the same services as neurotypical families,” Gosse said, adding sometimes that means some training is necessary and some autism awareness is needed, as well.
Gosse said she covered a variety of topics, including what it means to be diagnosed with autism and how the disorder is diagnosed, and provided statistics to instructors about prevalence.
“We talked about some of the specific behaviours that may or not be encountered … and we talked about some of the specific circumstances they may encounter working with someone on the autism spectrum,” she said.
The staff were also shown ways to adapt to the needs of an autistic person.
“We talked about visual schedules, how to visually communicate where necessary with the instructors and students, we covered a lot,” she said.