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YMCA expands swimming lessons for children with autism

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Staff Writer

METUCHEN — With a grant from Autism Speaks, swimming and water safety lessons for financially disadvantaged children with autism or Asperger’s Syndrome will be provided through a pilot program at the YMCA of Metuchen, Edison, Woodbridge & South Amboy (MEWSA).

Prior to the grant, the YMCA of MEWSA had already collaborated with local elementary and middle schools to offer these swimming lessons to their contained special needs classrooms.

“Now, because of Autism Speaks, we will be able to reach an even larger target audience,” said Rose Cushing, president and chief executive officer of the YMCA of MEWSA.

Autism Speaks is dedicated to science and research, family services, awareness and advocacy. According to it’s web site, the organization has funded more than  $2.7 million in New Jersey for the areas where it is dedicated.

These lessons will not only serve as a potential lifesaving mechanism for these children, but is also therapeutic since water can be very calming on sensory overloads, a common problem in autistic children.

“It is a well-documented fact that 91 percent of deaths in autistic children are due to drowning”, said Sue Chanese, aquatics and wellness director at the South Amboy YMCA. “So it is our goal to teach as many of these children as possible how to swim.”

Currently, the classes are being offered at the Metuchen and South Amboy YMCAs; however, the YMCA is hoping to eventually expand to the Edison facility as well.

Lessons will be tailored to each child’s preferences and abilities and are provided in small, attainable steps as needed, even beginning with the tolerance of putting feet in the water. Educating the children about the dangers of water will also be a fundamental part of the lessons.

“Since some of the children are very shy around others or have a fear of the water, the YMCA has reserved pool time solely for this group of children in order to address those issues,” said Cushing.

Because the YMCA prefers one-on-one instructors with the children, they are also actively seeking volunteers who have aquatics experience with special need children to offer a few hours of service for swimming and water safety lessons.

Parents are also encouraged to join their child in the pool for the swim lessons, although it is not mandatory.

Anyone interested in the program or volunteering for the program, please contact Sue Chanese at 732-553-9622, ext. 4208 or email her at susan.chanese@ymcaofmewsa.org.

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