• Grant provides free swim lessons to kids with autism

    By: Jenna Bourne, Action News Jax

    Updated:

    Parents of children with autism live with a constant fear in Florida.

    Drowning is the leading cause of death for children on the autism spectrum.

    Now a grant is providing free lifesaving swim lessons for 10 of those vulnerable children on Jacksonville’s Southside.

    “It’s become a relief for all of us,” said Misty Haywood, whose autistic 10-year-old daughter, Emma, takes swim lessons at Swimming Safari Swim School.

    According to the National Autism Association, drowning accounts for 91 percent of deaths reported for children with autism.

    “They’re drawn to water, wherever they are. They might jump in the pool. They might jump in the ocean. They might jump in a retention pond,” said Swimming Safari owner Joani Maskell.

    Kimberly Belzer’s 12-year-old son, Brandon, is non-verbal, so his mom said he often communicates by hitting.

    In the pool, Brandon is calm and his hands are used for paddling.

    “So his whole demeanor changes. He’s just very happy when he gets in the water,” said Belzer.

    Maskell said being able to offer that to 10 families for free is, well, priceless.

    “I had a mother the other day, I told her that she got the grant and she started crying right there. I’m going to cry right now. She just started crying right there in front of us,” said Maskell.

    If you think your child could benefit from these lessons, all you have to do is call Swimming Safari for an assessment at 904-260-1836.

    The Florida Swimming Pool Association, the Swimming Pool Education and Safety Foundation, and the National Swimming Pool Foundation partnered to provide that grant.

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