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Autism Speaks Awards Swimming Grant to YMCA for Pilot Program

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The YMCA of Metuchen, Edison, Woodbridge & South Amboy (MEWSA) has announced that they have recently received a grant from Autism Speaks to provide swimming and water safety lessons to financially disadvantaged children with autism or Asperger’s Syndrome. Prior to the grant, the YMCA of MEWSA had already collaborated with local elementary and middle schools to offer these swimming lessons to their contained special needs classrooms.

“Now, because of Autism Speaks, we will be able to reach an even larger target audience”, said Rose Cushing, President & CEO of the YMCA of MEWSA.  These lessons will not only serve as a potential lifesaving mechanism for these children, but is also therapeutic since water can be very calming on sensory overloads, a common problem in autistic children. “It is a well documented fact that 91% of deaths in autistic children are due to drowning”, said Sue Chanese, Aquatics & Wellness Director at the South Amboy YMCA, “so it is our goal to teach as many of these children as possible how to swim.”

Currently, the classes are being offered at the Metuchen and South Amboy YMCAs, however, the YMCA is hoping to eventually expand to the Edison facility as well.  Lessons will be tailored to each child’s preferences and abilities and are provided in small, attainable steps as needed, even beginning with the tolerance of putting feet in the water. 

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Educating the children about the dangers of water will also be a fundamental part of the lessons.  “Since some of the children are very shy around others or have a fear of the water, the YMCA has reserved pool time solely for this group of children in order to address those issues”, Rose Cushing said.  Because the YMCA prefers one-on-one instructors with the children, they are also actively seeking volunteers who have aquatics experience with special need children to offer a few hours of service for this noteworthy program.  Parents are also encouraged to join their child in the pool for the swim lessons, although it is not mandatory. 

If you are a parent with a special needs child that you feel is qualified to participate in this program, or if you are interested in volunteering, please contact Sue Chanese at 732-553-9622, Ext. 4208 or email her at susan.chanese@ymcaofmewsa.org.

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