A mere three years ago, Doreen Sigman’s son did little more than stand in the middle of the pool at the start of his summer swim camp.
By Friday, when Sigman’s son completed his third year participating in the annual camp hosted by SOAR, a nonprofit that serves local adults with developmental disabilities, he could confidently swim laps up and down the local YMCA pool.
“Now he is doing laps and counting the laps,” Sigman said Friday, during the final day of this year’s SOAR swim camp. “He’s had the same coach the whole time, which has been remarkable.”
SOAR hosts a swim camp every summer for people ages 6 and up who have developmental disabilities. The camp aims to not only teach participants how to swim but also how to be safe around water.
“We work on individual goals,” said Tracy Taylor, the camp’s director. “The parents fill out forms that tell us where (the campers are) at with their swimming, and one of the questions on there is about their aquatic goals for the end of the camp and longterm.”
Some parents hope their campers will be able to swim in the Special Olympics programs. Other simply hope their child will learn enough to stay safe near water.
“We try to work on whatever those needs are,” Taylor said. “Some of them, they can swim a little bit or they want to learn another stroke. We spend a lot of time on safety around the water and go over the safety rules.”
Children with autism are especially prone to risk around water, Taylor said.
“One of the characteristics of children’s autism is they don’t have that fear factor,” she said. “They’re not afraid of the water, so that’s why they tend to go into the water unaccompanied. We try to teach them safety skills, so if they do find themselves in the water they can get themselves to the side or they can get over on their back.”
Similar swim camps catered to the special needs population are rare, Taylor said. Each swimmer this week had their own personal instructor, who had Red Cross training certification as well as an adaptive aquatics instruction certificate.
Volunteers also help the camp’s instructors, working with the swimmers in the pool.
“The volunteers have been great,” Taylor said. “We’ve got four volunteers from the Coast Guard this year … And the rest of the volunteers are people who have volunteered before.”
The swimming education will extend into the fall, as additional classes will be offered by SOAR year-round for individuals with developmental disabilities, in collaboration with the Special Olympics of Coastal Georgia.
The camp is supported by Communities of Coastal Georgia Foundation, the St. Simons Rotary Club, the Southeast Georgia Health System and the Brunswick-Glynn County Council on Disabilities.
Sigman encouraged parents to sign their children up for SOAR’s swim camp.
“Every child should be here,” she said. “Water safety is paramount here. The health benefits, the exercise, the quality of the volunteers is just top notch.”