Erika Gleeson: Autism Swim

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Erika Gleeson: Autism Swim

Warm-hearted Erika makes it safe for children to cool off in water

There are few things better on a hot day than cooling off at the beach or the pool, but many children with autism never get near water because it’s too risky.

In fact, children with autism are 160 times more likely to drown than other kids.

That’s why Sydney autism specialist Erika Gleeson created Autism Swim, a social enterprise specialising in swimming and water-safety for those with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and other disabilities.

“Our mission is to change those statistics by tackling the issue from every angle we can,” says Erika. “We believe everyone has the right to thrive and survive in the water.”

Autism Swim works with swimming instructors, therapists, surfing organisations and schools to offer lessons tailored to the needs of each child, allowing them to learn at their own pace.

The organisation also provides training and support to parents on drowning prevention and how to prevent their children from wandering towards water.

“Our lessons are quite specialised compared with mainstream swimming lessons as they are inclusive of water therapy and education about water safety as much as learning to swim,” Erika says.

As founder and clinical director of the social enterprise, Erika works over 60 hours a week developing training material and resources, organising events and coordinating staff, volunteers and participants.

But she says it’s worth it for the smiles on the faces of the children as they develop confidence and skills in the water.

“It is amazing when you see them supercede all expectations and do things like go surfing, which their parents may have thought was never possible,” she says.

Erika says she is chuffed to have been voted by her community as a Westfield Local Hero.

Autism Swim will use its $10,000 Westfield grant to fund a video to educate the public about the dangers of wandering and drowning among those with ASD. Funds will also go towards an online training program and wandering and drowning-prevention toolkits for 30 families.

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