Small Fish Big Fish Swim School in West Palm Beach, Fla. has partnered with FSPA to provide free swimming lessons to children with autism.
Small Fish Big Fish Small Fish Big Fish Swim School in West Palm Beach, Fla. has partnered with FSPA to provide free swimming lessons to children with autism.

At some ages, children with autism are five to 14 times more likely to drown, according to the Florida Atlantic University Center for Autism & Related Disabilities.

The Florida Swimming Pool Association is hoping to put a dent in that staggering statistic.

Small Fish Big Fish Swim School in West Palm Beach will give some children with autism spectrum disorder free lessons, thanks to a donation from FSPA’s Palm Beach chapter and the sponsorship of Commercial Energy Specialists, Red Rhino Leak Detection, HornerXpress and Pentair Water Products.

Melissa Taylor, the “founding fish” and owner of the swim school said that 10 families will be selected to receive a scholarship which will pay for lessons twice a week for one month.

This is the second year FSPA has partnered with the school. The first year provided lessons for three children.

Swimming lessons are sorely needed for this demographic. Children with autism tend to wander and are naturally drawn to water, sometimes with devastating consequences. FSPA’s latest donation comes after a 7-year-old-boy with autism drowned in a pond in Riviera Beach this summer.

Those selected for the scholarship will receive private instructions. This lends itself to the calmer learning environment that is especially important for this population.

“A lot of times they have sensory issues, so they can’t take a large crowd,” Taylor said.

One-on-one instruction can be costly, which is why most swim schools teach kids in groups of five or six. But Taylor wants to provide individual attention to children with special needs.

“That’s where FSPA is really helping us out,” said Taylor, an FSPA member herself.

Meanwhile, Mom and Dad can watch poolside, one of their few reprieves from what can be a challenging childrearing situation.

Small Fish Big Fish specializes in adaptive aquatics for people with special needs. It expects to receive certification as an autism-friendly business from the FAU Center for Autism & Related Disabilities next month, and it’s the only private organization that accepts vouchers from the Palm Beach County Drowning Prevention Coalition.

What’s more, the school hosted the U.S. Swim School Association’s very first “on the go” course in November, providing local instructors an intensive, eight-hour training session on the finer points of teaching people with special abilities how to swim. Before, these sessions were only available at the USSSA’s conferences. Now the association is sending instructors across the country to train its members.

In Taylor’s view, the more knowledgeable her staff is about individuals with physical and cognitive impairments, the better equipped they’ll be to teach people of all abilities how to safely enjoy the water.