Specialized class teaches safety, social and swim skills
Feb 20, 2017 03:18PM ● Published by Travis Barton
Maya and Elise swim down the pool during their class. (Travis Barton/City Journals)
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Though the Otter Swim Club may not contain actual otters, it does give swim instruction. The club is a Salt Lake County program designed for children with an autism spectrum disorder or intellectual disabilities to improve swimming fundamentals, water safety and social skills.
“Really, every kind of aspect in life is what this program benefits, so it’s really amazing,” said Ivy Hausknecht, Salt Lake County adaptive aquatic manager. Hausknecht oversees the Otter Swim Club (OSC) program.
Run year-round, OSC is available at various county recreation centers throughout the valley including Fairmont, Holladay Lions, Gene Fullmer, Dimple Dell, J.L. Sorenson and Magna.
With drowning being the leading cause of death for children with autism, there is strong need for programs like the OSC. Hausknecht said the water proves vital for individuals who may have sensory processing sensitivities.
“The water is so beneficial for that. You just can’t get that feeling anywhere else in life than being in the water,” Hausknecht said. “For some kids when they kind of have those sensory sensitivities, the water just touching their entire body kind of calms them and gives them a sense of relaxation and that 45 minutes is awesome for them.”
Water bodes well especially for the general population of kids with down syndrome who may experience joint issues, making it difficult to be physically active on land. Hausknecht said water allows them to do everything.
“They get great exercise, they get to learn this really important life-saving skill that a lot of us take for granted,” Hausknecht said.
OSC, designed for youth ages 3–18, is divided into four levels for swimmers to progress through: water orientation, beginner, intermediate and advanced. Swimmers in the advanced level have the opportunity to compete with the county’s pre-competition teams.
“Water orientation is meant for kids who are terrified of the water then work their way up to the swim team level, so that is really cool,” Hausknecht said.
With the program running in four-week sessions, the amount of kids accepted into each level is dependent upon the number of teachers. OSC averages one teacher per three kids.
Hausknecht said different centers have varied staffing numbers. For example, Fairmont has enough to accept up to 10 kids in each level while other centers carry only one or two levels.
Growing up with family members experiencing disabilities, Hausknecht said while those relatives are now grown up, she wishes programs like these had been around sooner.
“If there were options like this 15, even 10 years ago, it could’ve changed their lives,” she said, noting 20 percent of Salt Lake County residents have some form of disability. “We’re really pushing (adaptive programs); I just see how it could’ve benefited my family back then.”
But working with the kids themselves might be Hausknecht’s favorite part of the OSC.
“These kids, the smile on their faces, this is kind of their highlight coming to these practices once a week, they look forward to it. When they get to the pool, seeing how excited they are to be there it makes you excited to be there,” she said.
OSC doesn’t have to be limited to these six centers. Hausknecht said if people want this program at other facilities they can call her. Once she sees it’s desired at another location, she begins forming a plan to place OSC there.
“I just need those requests so the more the community knows that we have this program, the more it will grow,” she said. “I want people to know that we can grow, they just have to call.”
To contact Hausknecht or learn more about the program, call (385) 468-1903 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.