UTRGV Professor Promotes Swimming for Developmentally Disabled Children
BROWNSVILLE – A Brownsville mother said swimming lessons are good for her child with autism. She said her daughter has learned to handle herself in water.
Ceci Sanchez‘s 6-year-old daughter, Sofia, gravitates toward water.
She said she feared her daughter might run off and jump into a resaca or a fountain. Therefore, she knew she needed her daughter to learn to swim.
For Sanchez, raising an autistic child has been a gift. However, it wasn’t always an easy ride.
"It's been a roller coaster. We've got great days; we've got not so great days. Every day is a working day. So, we're always trying to get her going to the next step," she said.
When Sanchez noticed her daughter was attracted to water, she began looking into ways to train her.
Three years ago, she began taking Sofia to free swimming therapies in Brownsville. It’s part of a service learning course at UTRGV.
Sanchez said the courses are held for one hour, Monday through Friday, during June.
She said she’s seen the pool therapy bring about major growth.
"Before, she couldn't put her head underwater. Before she couldn't – she would just fight us off and say, 'You know what, I'm just going to go in to the deep end and do what I want.' Now she realizes, you know what, there is some danger," she added.
UTRGV professor Dr. Phillip Conatser has been hosting these lessons for 10 years. He said he has had no problem with getting students to join him.
"My class is an elective. So the students that are taking my class, they want to be there and they want to work with these kids," he said.
Conatser said, over the years, he has seen hundreds of kids with intellectual disabilities grow. He explained children with autism benefit greatly from the swimming therapy.
"They really do well in the water. Something about the water, they don't know what, but it really calms them down. And, of course, the pool's a good place to move around and burn up some energy and not run over the hill and through the woods to grandmother's house," he said.
Conatser agreed children with autism need to know how to swim for their own safety.
He added the program is also effective because UTRGV students involved allow for more one-on-one with those who have intellectual disabilities.
The UTRGV professor said he’s had close to 50 students sign up for his course in the past years.
Conatser said the classes are through UTRGV in partnership with a Brownsville group known as Down by the Border. He said it’s best to visit downbytheborder.org for more information on the swimming lessons.
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