“Ian, Ian, Ian,” squeals 8-year-old Anna as she spots her friend across a pool in the South Bronx. She splashes with excitement until he gingerly joins her in the water.
Five years ago, Anna wouldn’t even utter “Mama.”
Anna and Ian, 7, are on the autism spectrum. Among their challenges is learning how to swim. With 1 in 68 American children falling on the spectrum, many with a penchant for wandering near water, parents and advocates believe swim safety is crucial.
That’s why the nonprofit Autism Speaks began a year ago to help swim programs around the country provide more personal attention, patience and specialized techniques often required for kids with special needs like those of Anna and Ian.
Among the recipients of $275,000 in grants issued the first year is Agnes Davis, president of swim, swim, swim I SAY. She’s a kindly kid whisperer in a swim cap who makes special cupcakes for her charges as she gently encourages them to master lifesaving skills.
“Agnes is a godsend,” said Anna’s dad, Maurice Shalah of Manhattan. “We tried so many different programs since she was about 2 years old and she never learned to swim until we came here. This program, after two sessions, she was swimming.”
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