British Columbia

Kamloops gets swimming lessons for children with autism

The Canucks Autism Networks has just started offering swimming lessons for children with autism in Kamloops.

New program to Kamloops helps children with autism learn to swim

Riley with instructor, Kaitlyn Bennett at the I CAN Swim lessons in Kamloops. (Jenifer Norwell/CBC)

Melanie Whittaker enrolled her seven-year-old son Riley in one-on-one swimming lessons seven times at the Canada Games Pool in Kamloops but he kept failing.

"They weren't able to connect with him on the level that he needed," she said.

That's why she was thrilled to find out that the Canucks Autism Network was starting up swimming lessons in Kamloops.

The I CAN Swim program is one of the organization's original programs, but up until this year it wasn't offered in the Interior.

Carly Herman, the regional director of the program said drowning is among the leading causes of death in children with autism.

Less stimulating lessons

These swimming lessons offer a less stimulating environment for children. For example, the music is turned off and fluorescent lights dimmed. Instructors use visual images to help show the children what the exercises look like along with using tools to show the beginning middle and the end of the exercises.

Visual tools help children understand the activities in the swimming lesson. (Jenifer Norwell/CBC)

Children who participate in these lessons get more instructors per child, compared to conventional lessons.

"Some participants come that just need a little bit of extra support and we're going to have some come that need a lot more support," said Herman.

For Riley the personal attention made a difference.

"It's actually going great. We did some activities and I got to dive," he said.

"It's actually about having fun."

His mother, Melanie agrees.

"It's amazing to watch. It's so incredible to watch your child move forward and know that you don't have to be frustrated," she said.

The I CAN Swim program started in October and already there is a wait list for the Kamloops program.

Melanie Whittaker with her son, Riley, after swimming lessons. (Jenifer Norwell/CBC)