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Florida Helps Foundation helps with PADL program

August 19, 2015
By Mike VonPlinsky , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

In late December 2014, the Florida Helps Foundation of Fort Myers Beach was awarded a

$23,000 "Family Community Services" Grant from AUTISM SPEAKS1, the nationally recognized

and highly respected autism science and advocacy organization. This prestigious grant is to

support the development and management of our new PADLS Program - Persons with Autism

or Disabilities Learn to Swim.

Accidental drowning among autistic and special needs children under the age of 15 is the leading cause of death of these kids in the US. For every child that drowns, another four are hospitalized for near-drowning accidents. And this issue is even more severe in Florida due to the sheer number of

water sources available (Pools, Ponds, Canals, Rivers, Lakes & Gulf) Autistic & Special Needs kids can often be less aware of the world around them, putting them at an even greater risk of drowning. It is imperative to teach children with autism or special needs to swim as they typically have limited sense of inherent threats or danger, tend to easily wander and, perhaps more than most people, they

have a true natural affinity for the water.

Children with Autism can learn to swim, as with any other child, through proper guidance, a caring atmosphere and swim lessons that are developmentally appropriate. Our PADLS Program provides swimming lessons targeted at the non-swimmer and beginner level to establish and improve basic water safety skills for autistic and special needs individuals of any age.

The first several months of our program were used to establish the business approach and infrastructure of the Program, reach out to the regional Autism community with our "PADLS Program Awareness" campaign, contact parents to identify those interested in our Program, recruit qualified water safety instructors, and other preparation activities. These activities led to our first major program event, our "Autism Awareness Workshop" for candidate swim instructors, held on June 6. Water Safety Instructors already know how to teach kids to swim but VERY FEW have any knowledge of how to deal with autistic and special needs kids and their behavior issues. We had several speakers from the area's Autism community speak on a range of topics related with the array of behavior issues of autistic kids and how to deal with these behavior issues.

After this Awareness Workshop, we selected initial instructors for the program, contacted interested

Parents to identify those that could participate on our scheduled days, and then began the Instruction phase of our PADLS Program on June 20th with an "Evaluation Day." This was done to have our Instructors interact with the candidates for our first training session to determine their current level of water comfort and swimming proficiency, if any. We used the experience gained in this Evaluation Day to select a group of 14 kids that formed our first Group. The first lessons to this group were given on July 24 and will continue every Monday and Friday through August 21!

We are now preparing to host our second training session in September and encourage interested parents to contact us. And, we are actively recruiting more Water Safety Instructors to support expansion of our program to other pools in Lee County and the surrounding areas we even are planning a WSI training event soon to help those interested in our PADLS Program to get their swimming instruction certification!

For more information on our on our PADLS Program, go to or contact Mike

VonPlinsky at .

--Mike VonPlinsky is the executive director of The Florida Helps Foundation.



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