“I like to swim in the pool, really fast,” says Luke, 16, a student at Kennedy Krieger Institute’s Lifeskills and Education for Students with Autism and other Pervasive Behavioral Challenges (LEAP) Program.
Luke has autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and initially attended a public school with a program for kids with ASD. But with adolescence, he began displaying severe behaviors, making it difficult for him to continue attending the public school.
That’s when Luke enrolled in the LEAP Program, which offers a range of educational and therapeutic services for students with complex academic, communication, social and behavioral needs. Its curriculum includes swimming and aquatics—unusual for a special education program, and a big deal for Luke.
“Swimming has been a large part of Luke’s life for a long time now,” says James, Luke’s dad. “He actually taught himself to be an amazing swimmer. He loves every aspect of being in the pool, whether it’s splashing around in the shallow water, or diving down to the deepest parts of the deep end. We’re fortunate that we were able to find a school that has a pool that he can access.”
“There are several behavioral benefits for our students when they come down to swim,” explains LEAP Program aquatics and fitness coordinator Courtney McKearin. “For Luke, by coming to the LEAP school, and participating in the pool program, we were able to really establish a good routine for him that really works for him, and we’re seeing a decrease in the behaviors.”
And all of the LEAP Program’s students who participate in aquatics benefit from learning a very important life skill—swimming. “If they someday find themselves in water, they have the skills that they need in order to save their own lives,” McKearin says.
The LEAP Program pool dates to the 1980s, and was not designed to be accessible to students with learning differences. This summer, thanks to funds raised by generous donors, the pool is being rebuilt to make it more compatible with the needs of the program’s students.
Luke and his family look forward to seeing the new pool. “If I had a magic wand for the pool renovation project,” Luke’s dad says, “I would ensure that the pool is seen for the wonderful asset that it is, and that its maintenance and upkeep and renovation maintain a first priority for everyone involved.”