Thursday, July 31, 2008

Autism swim program designed to save lives

Thursday, July 31, 2008


Statistics show that the highest rate of accidental death of autistic children is through drowning.

In response to this disturbing fact, in January, 2008, children from the Mount Prospect Pre-School Autistic Program (ages 3-5 years) began swim lessons each week at the Somerset Hills YMCA using the ABA (Applied Behavioral Analysis) methodology, a systematic step-by-step approach to learning that is implemented specifically in teaching children with autism.

The cooperative program between the YMCA and the Bernards Township School District is the brainchild of Jean O'Connell, Supervisor of Special Education, Bernards Township Schools, and Anna Scanniello, Director of Aquatics and Safety at the Somerset Hills YMCA in Basking Ridge.

Named ABA Swimming -- A Better Approach to Swimming -- the program is based on the ABA methodology that extends the use of the principles of applied behavior analysis to teaching children with autism. Lessons are held at the Somerset Hills YMCA training pool, where lead teacher, Allyson Sudol, pre-school Speech pathologist and former competitive swimmer, has developed a curriculum, based on her 12 years of experience teaching children with developmental difficulties.

With additional swim instructors and pool space provided at no cost by the YMCA, children are learning this vital life skill.

At the same time, the children learn essential social skills as they ride the school bus, change in and out of swimwear, navigate their way around the pool, and interact with instructors.

"We must continue to enable families to better face autism by providing the support services that they desperately need," stated Dr. Joseph Morandi, board-certified family physician and chairman of the Medical Committee for the Somerset Hills YMCA. "The ABA swimming program teaches essential skills, both in and out of the water, which these children might not otherwise learn. When you think about the YMCA's core principles of helping the people in our community grow in spirit, mind and body, this program is a perfect example that encompasses all of those values and leaves us with that warm sense of accomplishment and purpose."

Anna Scanniello of the YMCA insists that teaching the children to swim is a gift to the instructor and child alike and, at the same time, allows the children to increase their own independence for community involvement.

"This pilot program will hopefully be the first of many to address this issue," adds Scanniello.

Optimism is high that this program's success will encourage the widespread development of similar programs and trigger more grants to help underwrite operating costs such as instructor training, transportation, etc., so that other age groups can benefit from this opportunity.

For more information, visit or e-mail Anna Scanniello at

The Somerset Hills YMCA is a community service, mission based, 501c3 non-profit organization of dedicated staff and volunteers, serving all individuals regardless of gender, age, race, faith, ethnic heritage, mental/physical ability or economic circumstance.

Each year, the Somerset Hills YMCA provides over $550,000 in financial assistance and program subsidy through the Strong Kids Campaign. Located in Basking Ridge and dedicated to helping people grow in spirit, mind and body, the Somerset Hills YMCA is guided by the core principles of caring, honesty, respect and responsibility.

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