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Swimming lessons for kids with autism

Saturday 30 October 2021 | Written by Alana Musselle | Published in Local, National

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Swimming lessons for kids with autism
The 10 and upwards age group who made the most of Wednesday’s warm water at the Nikao Social Centre. 21102905

The kids at Autism Cook Islands dived straight into term four programme with the start of their swimming lessons on Monday. The organisation was happy to see the return of the lessons which kicked off in term one.

Autism Cook Islands (ACI) is holding three separate sessions for three different age groups this term with the primary/preschool lessons on Mondays, and the 10 and upwards age group being held on Wednesdays.

The five primary/preschool kids had their first session on Monday in the pool at ACI programme manager Kat Jensen’s house and the nine children from the 10 and upwards age group took to the Nikao Social Centre for their session.

The swimming lessons are part of ACI’s ‘Play Therapy Programme’. They hope by learning how to swim which will help reduce the risk of accidental drowning, the children may also gain confidence and coordination in their social skills through the programme.                                                                   

“We live in paradise with the beautiful lagoon at our doorstep, learning to swim is a life skill our children must have, especially as so many of our children are magnets to water, it is well known that many autistic children love water and water is a calming influence for them,” Jensen said.

The children had a great time at both sessions, being guided by swimming coaches Leslie and Kieran Chan and helper Shelley from Cook Islands Aquatic Federation, as well as six volunteers who have come on board to help ensure safety in the water for the children.

There were a few children who sat on the beach watching for a while, not quite ready to join in yet, but all in their own time and space as that is how it is with children living with autism, Jensen explained.

Seven-year-old Wesley Trego had a blast at his first swimming session of the term, guided by swimming coach Leslie Chan from the Cook Islands Aquatics Federation. 21102906

The volunteers who have come on board are Pete Jones, Grete Fevang, Alex Siteine, Lynn Sword, Cecilia Bostock, and Penny Murray, all a mix of teachers and parents of older children with autism wanting to help, as well as members of the community.

Jones, one of the volunteers, said: “I am lucky to be a father of an amazing autistic 19-year-old and because of her obsession with water from a very early age I am aware of how important it is for children with autism to learn to swim and gain basic water skills. I feel privileged to be a part of it and have enjoyed being teamed up with Metua who was a pleasure to work with. I look forward to seeing the children progress with the help of other volunteers, parents and coaches.”

ACI has approached some families and friends in New Zealand to sponsor some of the children’s swimming lessons so that the costs aren’t a barrier for the children to excel. The costs per child is $60. So far ACI’s New Zealand families have sponsored $30 per child so that the cost to ACI families on Rarotonga is more affordable. They have also received a $200 donation towards swimming from ‘Taonga Takiwatanga Charitable Trust’ which is a Gisborne-based trust that is set up to support families who have a child or family member with ‘Takiwatanga’ which is the New Zealand Maori word for autism.

“We are very grateful to our Cook Islands community who also contribute hugely to our programmes, but with swimming I like to share the financial load and ask for help from those in New Zealand who are more than willing to help and have the financial means to do so,” Jensen said.