Like many autistic children, Ethan John loves the water — and that’s both a good and bad thing.If there’s water around, the 7-year-old will head right to it, even if there’s nobody watching him.
“Everything else is so chaotic for him, but being in a pool or the ocean relaxes him,” says his mother, Koren McKenzie-John, of Tamarac. “We can’t take our eyes off of him for a second.
“Because of children like Ethan, water safety instruction is crucial in South Florida. And, in fact, experts say South Florida offers the most-advanced programs to teach autistic children how to swim. Instructors here must go through an extra layer of certification to work with special-needs children. And kids are matched with qualified instructors through Broward and Palm Beach county water-safety agencies.
“It’s a great model, the best in the country,” says Jack Scott, executive director of the Florida Atlantic University Center for Autism and Related Disabilities. “Florida is trying to teach them water safety rather than have instructors who just throw up their hands and say, ‘They can’t do it.’ ”
Nine-year-old Abby Bauleke found what she was looking for in a most improbable spot. She had tagged along, following her older brother and sister to their basketball, football and soccer games — waiting for her time to come. Then leukemia and a paralyzing infection threatened to put a damper on this bundle of energy and enthusiasm, who lives in Savage.
On a recent afternoon, Abby slipped effortlessly out of her wheelchair and into an indoor swimming pool tucked into a nondescript industrial maze of warehouses in Eden Prairie.
“I feel free when I’m swimming,” Abby said. “And my teammates are great.”
As she pulled herself through the water, lap after lap, Abby was surrounded by other children swimming, splashing, kickboarding and laughing. The Clownfish Swim Club was at it again, a unique team comprising more than two dozen kids with autism, Down syndrome and other disabilities that all melt away once they break the water’s surface.
A Notts teenager with Down’s Syndrome has followed in the footsteps of Rebecca Adlington and Michael Phelps by being fitted with a Speedo Olympic swimming suit.
Oliver Pratley, 15, could not even swim three years ago but now he’s making waves in the swimming world, breaking several world records.The teenager has been given two pairs of £130 ($201) Speedo LZR racer jammer shorts which he will wear in the Down’s Syndrome Championships in Taiwan in September, where he will represent Britain.
Oliver was given a tour of Speedo in Ascot Road, Nottingham, and was shown around the Aqualab where the latest innovations in swimming attire are developed.
After squeezing into the tight shorts, the Blidworth teenager gave his verdict: “What can I say? They make me feel like a professional. Other people will think I’m the real deal in them.”
The sky is spitting an afternoon shower as Michael Tuason arrives for practice at the New Port Richey Rec Center pool with his mom. The tall, lanky teenager greets his waiting dad with a brief “hi,” then quickly strips to his bathing suit and tucks his black, shoulder-length hair under his navy blue cap.
Before long, the star of the Pasco Piranhas Special Olympics swim team is in the water, ready to go.
“How many?” Michael, 18, asks his coach, Rita Miller.
She barely gets out, “Give me 20,” before he’s off, swimming the freestyle and easily lapping the two other swimmers sharing the lane.
“Just look at him go,” Miller says, “He won’t stop till he’s done all 20 laps and then he’ll ask me again, ‘How many?’