The Autism Society Philippines (ASP) is a national, non-profit organization dedicated to the well-being of persons with autism spectrum disorder. The ASP has been in the forefront of providing services and training to families living with autism.

22 April 2013

AUTISwiM





By: DANG U. KOE, ASP Chair Emeritus

Swimming brings out many physical, psychological, sensory, cognitive, and recreational benefits in persons with autism…


Maybe it’s the sensory pleasure of being wholly surrounded by something that pushes back. Maybe it’s the freedom of motion. Or perhaps it’s because, underwater, noise disappears and vision softens,” said Lisa Jo Rudy of About.com Guide on why swimming is a wonderful match for people on the spectrum.

Previous angel talker Cris de Leon-Hinlo (occupational therapist and program director of Therapy Works, Inc) wrote that purposeful activities in the water, such as swimming, have many physical, psychological, sensory, cognitive and recreational benefits. The parent-leaders of Autism Society Philippines put these claims to a test when they started swimming lessons for their children with autism last summer.

The health benefits of engaging in water activities include improvement in strength, endurance, coordination, and balance.

Baby Tan’s daughter Thanielle has autism with mild hemiplegia (a neglect of the left side of the upper extremity due to mild spasticity which results to uncoordinated movement pattern). “Being hemiplegic, it’s really hard for her to learn how to swim. She seemed uninterested in it and was just contented playing in the shallow part of the pool. But because she loves water, I enrolled her in our chapter’s summer swimming lessons. After a few sessions, she could already immerse her head under water during breathing exercise and balance herself while floating using the kickboard. For me, that is already a great achievement!!”

It develops a positive mental attitude and promotes self-esteem, preparing the child to successfully engage in interpersonal relations.

Last year, the highlight of ASP Diliman’s swimming event was a competition on the last day of the swimming class. The competition included holding breath, freestyle, freestyle with kickboard, and diving in three categories: with feet first, in sitting and lunge position. Children with autism (CWA) competed against each other and with their siblings in all categories. Dinner with parents followed. There was also a ‘graduation ceremony’ where the winners were awarded with certificates and tokens. “We incorporated these social activities to make the event even more fun,” said Jo Palomares, founding president of ASP Diliman and the organizer of the summer swimming event. “Swimming may also be a leveling sports for them because they are able to compete with their neuro-typical siblings,” she added.

It improves the child’s work behaviors (examples are: attention span, concentration, ability to follow instructions, etc), thereby becoming a more receptive learner.

For Resy Benoza, mother of Vincent, the swimming sessions surpassed her expectations. “I was more than happy to see Vincent do floating strokes in the company of other children. Most of the time, he patiently listened to the coaches, and tried his best to follow their instructions. No need for Mommy or yaya to prompt him or to promise him rewards for good behavior. This summer, he learned the proper way to dive, and to improve his floating strokes.”
Vincent also imitated the other children. On his own, he waited for his turn in the line, then showered before and after swimming. After shower, he would get his clothes to dress up on his own in the boy’s room. Just like the rest of his classmates, he ate his snacks only after swimming, It calms the child’s sensory system (reducing hyperactivity, decreasing tactile sensitivity, decreasing self-stimulatory behaviors and repetitive behaviors, etc.) so that he can cope with everyday demands.

Vincent also happens to be sensitive to loud sounds and used to be afraid of thunder and lightning. One afternoon, thunder and lightning struck before swimming. Contrary to his usual whining and tantrums during such occurences, he just asked his mom and coach if “rain will go away.” After being reassured, he just sat down quietly, like the rest of his peers.

By engaging in regular recreational activities in the water, children can have a fun activity to look forward to.

Josh, brother of CWA Macky, declared proudly that he and CWA Bodong were perfect in attendance “because we never miss a lesson even if it’s raining.” Perhaps Vania speaks for herself and her brother Vincent when she said, “I enjoyed the swimming classes because every three days I get to spend the day with my friends and my coaches; they make every swimming class fun.” Vania said that this year’s ongoing swimming program is as fun as last year.

Lifestyle diseases, such as high cholesterol, obesity and diabetes, can be avoided.
Yes, Vincent lost part of his belly pouch because of swimming.

Now on its second year, ASP Diliman Chapter’s successful summer swimming session is not only due to the parent-leaders’ determination and synergy to give their children a fun and therapeutic summer. It is also because of the passionate and patient volunteers like Fred Olar, Lifeguard and Swimming instructor of National Power Corporation; UST SpED graduates Timothy Angob and JC Cochon; and SpEd teacher Anna Gianina from UP Diliman. This year, UST SpED students Ena and Clarisse joined this dedicated team.

(ASP’s April 27 seminar features SpEd teacher My Sorongon on “Filipino Siblings of PWAs: Understanding and Responding to their Needs and the ABC’s of Organizing a SibsCamp.” For details, follow Autism Society Philippines on Facebook, Twitter and blogspot.)

This article appeared in print and online by Manila Bulletin on 22 April 2013

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