Children with special needs SAIL into swimming

28 February 2019

With such ready access to so many water locations for swimming and recreation in our state, it’s vital for all West Australians to be able to take part in swimming and water safety education. Unfortunately, due to special needs or simply not fitting into the mainstream “box”, this education can be out of reach for some community members.

Swim instructor Joanne Jolly with five year old Jax Fletcher-George in the pool at Kwinana RecquaticStatistics show that of the children aged 0-14 years who drowned across Australia in the past ten years, 15% had special needs. Recent statistics from the United States - looking specifically at autism - show that drowning is the leading cause of death for children with autism, and they are 160% more likely to drown than other children. A review of drowning data indicates limited water safety awareness combined with alarming low participation levels in swimming and water safety programs are contributing factors in the over-representation of children with special needs in drowning statistics.

Royal Life Saving Society WA is working hard to break down the barriers to participation in learning to Swim and Survive within a variety of at-risk groups, and is particularly working to increase participation for special needs children through the SAIL (Specialised Access and Inclusion Lessons) at Kwinana Recquatic – a Royal Life Saving Endorsed Swim School.

SAIL is offered to people of all ages with an intellectual, physical or behavioural issue or impairment, who need individual attention or reduced distraction from other swimmers. It teaches basic water safety skills for those with special needs, and those who might require extra help to gain confidence in the water.

Both Lucas Walsh (pictured above with instructor Tanya Jeffrey) and Jax Fletcher-George (pictured left with instructor Joanne Jolly) have autism, so it is important for them to receive private lessons to enable the instructor to give their full attention to them and help with any specific needs.

The program is supported through SWIM MY WAY – a partnership between Royal Life Saving Society and UNCLE TOBYS to get more Australians swimming and active in the water. In Term 1 and Term 2 2019, RLSSWA hopes to have 80 children participate in this program - providing tailored private lessons that suit each child’s needs

The City of Kwinana is very supportive of the program. “Having the opportunity to learn to swim is a necessity in the WA environment,” said Mayor Carol Adams. “The City is committed to encouraging community participation in swimming lessons and this grant will certainly benefit these local families to have the opportunity to learn to swim in a safe, welcoming and affordable environment,’’ she said.

Since the program’s inception in 2017 the SAIL program has made a real difference in the Kwinana Community - with more than 100 children taking part - and we would love to see more programs like this rolled out across the Perth metro area and regional WA.

For more details about Royal Life Saving WA's work with special needs children click the link below.

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More information about the Swim My Way program can be found at the Royal Life Saving Australia website.

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