Embracing All Abilities

Embracing All Abilities

4 min read

Temecula’s Adaptive Swim Program helps everyone become water-safe

By Gwen Willcox

The City of Temecula, in Southern Calif., created an Adaptive Aquatics Program for youth participants with a variety of special needs (including autism-spectrum disorder, ADHD, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, processing disorders, and paralysis).

Temecula’s program offers swimming instruction in different forms based on each child’s specific needs. Participants (ages 3-15) learn basic water skills in the pool while also developing social skills through interactions with designated Swim Buddies, thereby gaining confidence through the mastery of new skills. The new swimmers also acquire physical and mental benefits from the positive environment that the instructors provide.

Each participant is shown techniques to become comfortable in the water, and many learn to swim, though each child progresses at a different pace. By innovating and adapting to the needs of the community, the program stands as a beacon of promise and possibility for underserved and marginalized populations. Every day in the water gets participants one step closer to being water-safe. 

A Family Affair

The adaptive lessons allow children with special needs and their families to be fully integrated into the community.  Some families have been involved in these lessons for many years, creating lasting bonds. Lessons also provide participating water-safety instructors with valuable professional development and growth opportunities.

What’s special about this program is that it involves the public on two fronts: it creates space for families with special-needs children and recruits local peer-buddy volunteers. As the program grows, it continues to receive support from the autism-focused nonprofit Our Nicholas Foundation and the many families who have been served.