Aquatic Freedom For Children with Special Needs

Eric Herman Headshot
Photo via Special Fishies: Aquatic Freedom and Education Facebook page.
Photo via Special Fishies: Aquatic Freedom and Education Facebook page.

For most of us, aquatic exercise and recreation represents a healthful and often pleasurable respite from the rigors of daily life. For people with with disabilities, however, time spent in water can mean much more.

In the words of Jodi Powell, aquatic instructor for children with disabilities, the water represents nothing less than freedom — “aquatic freedom” to be exact. I came across her story in the October 3rd edition of Orange County Weekly; it’s a wonderful piece in which Powell's work with children with disabilities takes center stage.

Powell’s is a powerful story about her efforts to bring the profound benefits of aquatic activity to people who need it the most. As described in the article, Powell opened Special Fishies Aquatic Freedom Room in late September; it serves as a place where children find their aquatic freedom in a welcoming and soothing environment. "I knew I could give freedom that these kids can't feel anywhere else," she told OC Weekly. "I already fell in love with working with children on the spectrum, but this was something new."

Powell reports that her experience has shown that children with disabilities often show remarkable improvement in the program, not only physically but psychologically, with many showing improved coping skills and behavior as well as increased physical mobility. She puts her "fishies" through a variety of exercises based on their individual needs. Because many children with disabilities cannot exercise regularly, many become overweight, a problem that exacerbates their issues. This is why burning fat and developing an overall state of improved fitness is one of her top priorities. 

"I get kids to swim, that can't walk, giving them a freedom they never experienced before...Once we get these little guys moving, we keep them moving," she said.

From an industry perspective, this is arguably the highest calling for aquatic professionals and those who provide the vessels where this type of transformative work takes place. It’s hard to imagine the exhilaration a person with a disability must feel when in the water. For many, aquatic environments are the only spaces these children can experience the mobility most of us take for granted.

When we talk about the consumer experience, perhaps we’d do well to keep these kinds of stories in mind and maybe even from time to time publicize the work of people like Powell. I’ve personally had the privilege of witnessing firsthand the transformation that takes place when someone bound to a wheelchair experiences instantaneous freedom when they enter a pool or spa.

If that doesn’t make us proud as an industry, it’s hard to imagine what would.    

Miles swimming!

Miles, who I have been teaching for a couple years suffers from SMA. With the wonderful Waterwaybabies Nancy Higgs he is free in the water to kick, reach and pull. Not pictured is last week when he BLEW BUBBLES! Video to come. Water=Freedom for these amazing children!

Posted by Special Fishies: Aquatic Freedom and Education on Sunday, August 21, 2016
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