The Harrison County YMCA and the Corridor Chapter of the Autism Society of West Virginia have teamed up to help local children keep their heads above water, all while having fun.
In a lot of ways, Bobby Smith is just like any other nine-year-old boy.
"He loves to swim. He loves loves loves the water. He likes to play in the sand and the dirt. He's just an outdoorsy kind of kid," said Cheri Smith, Bobby's mother.
So when the Smiths heard about the YMCA's Autism Swimming Challenge - a four-week program designed to help special needs children - Cheri Smith jumped at the chance to enroll her son.
"[It's] so exciting for us because Bobby has an elopement problem. He will run off in a heartbeat, and he actually wears a tracker bracelet through the sheriff's department. Typically children with autism, if they run off, a water source is where you're going to find them. So learning to swim is vital for him," said Smith.
"We take opportunities for children who are on the autism spectrum, and we buddy them up with a peer and work on swimming, water safety skills...we had the parents set a goal for each of their children, whether that would be developing their strokes, safety skills, if they would fall off of a boat, they'd be able to keep themselves afloat," said Rhea Dyer, executive board member for the Corridor Chapter - Autism Society of West Virginia.
While there is no age requirement for the program, all of the swimmers must stand at least four feet tall. All of the "buddies" are volunteers from the community.
"They're learning to interact with somebody, they're learning to follow directions, so there's a social component, as well as there is a learning component, so they're having fun, but they're learning at the same time, and I don't see how it could get any better than that," said Dyer.
Dyer said May's program is full, but she plans to help organize more Autism Swimming Challenges in the future. The Corridor Chapter - Autism Society of West Virginia has more events in the works, like a bus trip to the Pittsburgh Zoo and a pool party in Bridgeport this July.
For more information about the Corridor Chapter - Autism Society of West Virginia, visit its Facebook page.
904 West Pike Street
Clarksburg, WV 26301
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