By Laurie Young, Photos by J. Keith Howie
Swimming can provide substantial benefits to individuals with special needs ranging from exercise to fun and social interaction.
Adapted aquatics are modified swimming techniques that accommodate the abilities of individuals with cognitive or physical limitations. The goal is to give people the skills they need for independent swimming and water safety.
Adapted aquatics have lots of benefits including freedom of movement, increased strength and endurance along with improved self-esteem.
The adapted aquatics program was developed through partnerships with the Canadian Red Cross and other agencies. One of those partners is the Vecova Recreation Centre in Calgary. Vecova is an organization that supports individuals with special needs. Cheryl Wauthier works at Vecova and is an integral part of the program.
"Red Cross and I partnered to create an adapted aquatics program because people would call from all over the province, my facility thinking that we ran adapted aquatics and we didn’t," Wauthier explained.
A group was formed and the adapted aquatic program was born.
Bloorview in Ontario also became involved with the Red Cross. Over the last two years the program became national.
"It's pretty amazing [that it is now] this full blown program," Wauthier enthused.
The program continues to evolve. The adapted swimming program is only open to people with disabilities as a specialized class, but it has had some unexpected benefits for new Canadians.
A teaching tool that is used is a Picture Exchange Communication (PEC) board. A PEC Board, known as the picture exchange communication system, is a waterproof storyboard that is used in the pool. It outlines swimming techniques and is a critical piece of the lesson plan. These are waterproof pictures that go right into the pool. Not only is this a useful tool for swimmers with special needs, but is also a useful tool for students whose first language isn't English.
Aquatic activity can benefit everyone regardless of physical ability.
"It’s good for the mind, body and soul," reflects Wauthier.
Find more information on the adapted aquatics program here.