Neverland is starting a new initiative for 2018! Let the training begin!

As you know, we are Metro Atlanta’s adaptive swim program for children, teens, and adults with disabilities. We have had great success in the suburbs of Atlanta, from our humble beginnings of 1 instructor with a handful of students to serving over 500 students with disabilities in the Metro Atlanta Area. Now it is time for Neverland to give back to others around the country, by sharing our knowledge of how to grow a quality swim program for people with disabilities. This is our introduction to the program. Stay tuned for more to come!

Ava White Student benefit from active lessons

Ava White students benefit from active lessons

Swimming, martial arts help kids with disabilities

Kristen Oliver
October 2, 2015

Many children don’t have access to quality swimming lessons. Fewer get a chance to take Taekwondo.

Even fewer children get a chance to do both when they have a learning or behavioral disorder.

But students at Ava White Academy in Gainesville have access to both for the first time this year, thanks to a partnership between the school and local businesses.

Fifteen Ava White students are currently taking swimming lessons Tuesdays and Thursdays at Frances Meadows Aquatics Center with the Neverland Aquatics company, a group specializing in working with special needs students.

“All of our kids, except at one location, are exclusive, adaptive lessons for disabilities. So we definitely cater to their needs,” said Neverland owner and lead instructor Kristie Snape, who works with fellow instructor Morgan Wojcik and Gwinnett County Schools intern Samantha Van Hoose. “We understand how to work with them, and all of our instructors are trained in adaptive aquatics.”

Snape said the program splits the students into two groups, one for more experienced swimmers and one with more technique-based learning.

Snape taught special education in public schools for eight years before founding the company. She took what she used in the classroom and adapted it for the water.

“We’re so fortunate to have Kristie,” White said. “These kids have had problems finding teachers who don’t know how to teach them.”

Snape said all the lessons are adaptive and consider physical, cognitive and emotional needs.

“Swimming is just a good release,” she said. “For any kids who have difficulty coordinating their whole body, swimming is the best possible thing they could be doing. You have to think about what your hands are doing, what your feet are doing — every part of your body. It’s a great activity and the kids seem to really enjoy it as well.”

Ava White, academy founder, said the lessons help give the students a well-rounded education.

“We’re talking about self-confidence, paying attention, learning a lifelong skill,” White said. “Anything we can do that’s fine motor helps their gross-motor skills. Plus of course, it’s a good safety thing. We’ve got kids here who don’t know how to swim.”

Ava White Academy is a member of Georgia Association Private Schools for Exceptional Children. The school is designed for remediation of specific learning disabilities, and includes a hybrid homeschool and traditional high school.

“We’ve got students with Aspergers, with central auditory processing disorder, dyslexia, dysgraphia, attention deficit disorder, speech and language programs,” White said. “That pretty much runs the whole gambit I think.”

Along with the swimming lessons through Neverland Aquatics, the academy is offering Taekwondo at the school gym at the same time. Both activities are incredibly beneficial for these students, White said.

“They absolutely love it,” White said. “And we’ve learned a lot going forward. We’ll probably have some switching off, and have the Taekwondo kids come over here and these kids go to Taekwondo. They are just such good activities for the kids.”

Ethan & Griffin Ethan, Morgan, & Nicholas Grayson Kristie & Makayla William

Water Safety Article in Parenting Special Needs Magazine

Parenting Special Needs Magazine is an excellent publication focused on sharing information and inspiration. They publish bi-monthly with seasonal content from experts in the field of special education for real parents. They cover all topics from getting through the holidays, navigating IEP’s and services, inspirational stories from other parents, recreational activities, and the importance of taking time to yourself as a parent. If you haven’t read their publications before, we highly recommend them!

Check out the article on water safety Parenting Special Needs Magazine asked Neverland Aquatics own Kristie Snape to write:

 Parenting Special Needs Article picture

Is Your Family READY for FUN in the Water This Summer?

Water Safety is a concern for all parents. This is especially true for the families of children with disabilities. While it poses some unique problems, it also carries some unique benefits. On average two children per day under the age of 14 die from accidental drowning. Drowning is a leading cause of death for children with autism (and any child prone to wandering). Close and constant supervision, pool barriers, life jackets, and separating alcohol consumption from water activities are all important safety precautions. Sometimes these precautions are not enough if you have a child prone to wandering.

The problem with personal flotation devices is complacency

Coast Guard approved personal flotation devices (PFDs) are critical life saving devices and absolute requirements for boating or any time that family members are around large bodies of water. PFDs are wonderful devices and have saved many lives. The problems begin when adults and children develop a dependency on these devices and they become the only defense against a potential catastrophe. Panic is the typical outcome when children dependent on PFDs do have an aquatic accident and are not wearing their device. Panicking is the worst thing someone can do when falling into the water. A stiff and stressed body will sink, while a relaxed body will float. Flotation devices can give children a false sense of confidence leading your child to think they can swim by themselves without fully understanding their dependency on the flotation device. This is why learning to swim independently is critical to child water safety.

Single Point of Failure

Think of all the high-tech safety devices in the modern automobile and yet every time we load up the kids, we double-down on safety making sure they are properly restrained in even more safety devices. The key to better safety is to always have a backup plan; never rely on a single point of failure. There is no such thing as too much safety for our children. This goes for all family members: brother; sister; mom; dad and even grandma and grandpa. They need to be ever vigilant, trained and capable when it comes to the safety of children. The good news is that you can double-down on water safety for your children even if they have special needs.

Finding the right swimming program for children with special needs

This can be a tall order, but here are some important things to look for when searching for the right program for your child:

1. Make sure the swim program has a good track record of working with students with disabilities. Many programs are willing to work with students with disabilities, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they have the knowledge and skills to do so. Find out if the instructor has any specific certifications or has taken courses to learn more about working with students with disabilities. Try to find a program in your area taught by local professionals in the special education community. This might include special education teachers, special education teacher aides, or therapists. Ask if the program includes learning strategies that your child responds well to such as: visual aids, video modeling, social stories, etc. If they don’t, find out if they are willing to add some of these strategies into their program.

2. The program you choose should make learning to float a priority. Learning to relax and float is an essential safety component for anyone first learning to swim. If your children know how to float independently, they will have a strong defense if they find themselves in a sticky situation in the water. When someone relaxes and floats, they can breathe, call for help, or catch their breath and swim out of the water. Students should practice jumping in from the side of the pool and immediately going into a relaxed float as well as going down to the bottom of the pool and coming back up into a relaxed float.

3. A good program will have a fully clothes test for the students to simulate a real aquatic accident. The student may be pushed or gently tossed into the pool unexpectedly with all their clothes on. Sometimes this can be difficult for parents to watch, but it is important to remember that you are doing this because you want to equip your child with as many safety defenses as possible. This could save their life! Swimming with your clothes on feels very different than a swimsuit, especially if the student has a heightened sensory system. Practicing swimming with clothes lets them become familiar and comfortable with the sensations, so they aren’t shocked if they ever fall in unexpectedly. This, of course, only comes after adequate instruction has taken place and the student is ready for the task.

Aquatic activities are great fun and fitness for the entire family. Just because a child has a disability does not mean they can’t participate in the fun. Often times finding the right swim instructor with the right skill set for your child is all it takes. Be sure to research the swim programs in your area and always ask questions. Lastly, become an advocate for quality swimming programs for persons with disabilities in your area.

See the full article on the Parenting Special Needs website here.