Waterloo teen helps remove barriers for swimmers with autism, ADHD

As a Youth Accessibility Leader, student Liliana Paroski secured $7,400 worth of new equipment for the Region of Waterloo Swim Club to help kids with autism or ADHD feel comfortable during swim meets.
Liliana Paroski is an engineering student at the University of Waterloo. (Matthew Pierce/CBC)

The Region of Waterloo Swim Club can now more easily accommodate children with autism and ADHD at their meets and practices, thanks to a University of Waterloo student.

As a Youth Accessibility Leader, student Liliana Paroski secured $7,400 worth of new equipment through the federal government for her former swim club. The equipment will help kids stay comfortable during hectic swim meets and better understand instructions from their coaches. 

"We have the seat cushions, we have the weighted blankets, we have the mirrors, we have noise reduction headphones, we have clocks and we have coach communicating headsets," said Paroski.

Paroski is a former competitive swimmer who wanted to help children with autism or ADHD more easily participate in the sport.

During meets, swimmers can often wait up to two hours in between races, she said. 

"In that two hour wait time, its not a quiet pool deck. Buzzers are going, timers are going off, coaches are yelling, people are splashing, there are people everywhere," said Paroski. 

"It's very stimulating, and it can disrupt them," she said, adding that the noise cancellation headphones will help. 

Visual timers and noise cancelling headphones help reduce stress and anxiety at swim meets. (Matthew Pierce/CBC)

Part of Paroski's grant also paid for countdown clocks.

"We have a lot of kids who want a number on how many minutes they have to spend doing something," said Kaitlyn Schultz, one of the club's coaches.

"Having that visual timer there really streamlined things."

Schultz has experience coaching children with different diagnoses. She has worked with the Special Olympics and a swim team associated with Toronto charity Variety Village, she said. 

"I've brought a lot of kids into the sport."

Helpful in and out of the pool

The mirrors and coach communication headsets help provide feedback while children are training.

There are some swimmers at the club who have difficulty receiving the same feedback multiple times, Schultz said. With mirrors, kids receive feedback instantly, she said. 

"They can see themselves and instantly know if they're doing what they're supposed to do," she said. 

The headsets allow coaches to provide feedback while students are in the water, which eliminates the distraction of getting in and out of the pool.

By making the swim club more accessible, Schultz said she hopes parents will be more likely to give swimming a chance. She said swimming is an ideal sport because it provides a team atmosphere but can also allow for a high degree of independence. 

"It's also the only sport you can do for your entire life, so why not teach everybody how to swim?" Schultz said.