SINGAPORE: Like any parent, Madam Jennifer Ng had concerns about her nine year-old son’s safety when he first started learning how to swim six years ago.
“He was only three, which is actually very young, and I thought the water is so deep, so how is he going to swim when he can’t even stand at the time? How is he able to take care of himself in the water?” she recounted. “There were quite a lot of safety issues that I had to think about.”
But her fears were compounded by the fact that her son, Choon Khang, was born with cerebral palsy, a neurological disorder that primarily affects body movement and muscle coordination.
Nonetheless, in just six years, Choon Khang has learnt how to float, swim the backstroke, and looks forward with excitement to his weekly swimming lesson, held every Saturday afternoon at Jalan Besar Swimming Complex.
“For five days a week he goes to school and deals with teachers, lessons and homework, so Saturday is something that’s very different for him,” said Mdm Ng. “And whenever he’s in the water, he feels very confident.
“There are quite a lot of sports he cannot engage in, so I hope he can at least do well in one sport, and from there he can build up self-esteem and confidence and know that he is good at this one thing,” she added.
Parents like Mdm Ng are driving the increasing demand for swimming lessons tailored specially for children with special needs. Swim schools and coaches Channel NewsAsia spoke to said demand has been going up, particularly in the last one to two years.
Choon Khang’s swim coach Danny Ong said his swim school, AquaFins, used to receive “two or three calls” every few months enquiring about lessons for children with special needs. But he now gets the same number of calls in a matter of weeks.
“I would say that especially after the ASEAN Para Games last year hosted by Singapore, and the recent launch of the Centre for Expertise for Disability Sports, that really created more awareness and we’re receiving even more enquiries than before,” said Mr Ong, who has been training those with special needs for 20 years.
“The calls cover almost all types of disabilities, from physical disabilities, intellectual disabilities and neurological disabilities like autism, and I also see a small number of people with hearing or visual impairments,” he added.
Demand has also been going up at another school, Swish Swimming. Its founder, Kristen Romain, said she has seen a rise in the number of “Stressless” classes her school runs. “These classes cater for children with an extreme fear of water, and that fear could have risen from a drowning experience, or arise from a mild special need like autism,” she said. “We started with one class, but now we’ve got about seven to eight, subject to pool space and coach availability.”
SCHOOLS COMING ON BOARD
But the bulk of the demand for Ms Romain’s classes comes from a school – the Melbourne Specialist International School (MSIS). The school, which caters to children with special needs between the ages of 3 to 18, has made swimming lessons an integral part of its curriculum.
“With children with special needs, you want to work with different textures, different mediums, and water is one of the things that the kids love,” said the school’s principal, Daryl Van Hale. “Water is very soothing for a lot of our kids, and they really do light up as soon as they get into the pool.”