At Goldfish Swim School, we love to celebrate! While teaching kiddos to be safer in and around the water, we make it a priority to celebrate progress, diversity and the acceptance of others in each of our schools across North America. It extends outside of our four walls as our schools team up with great groups in their communities to work together in spreading awareness about water safety and drowning prevention, while supporting fintastic causes that help make waves in the lives of others!

Making Waves, Giving Back & Saving Lives with Alijah’s Awareness

In honor and celebration of Autism Acceptance Month, Goldfish Swim School – Winter Park in Florida is swimming into the second year of their partnership with Alijah’s Awareness and the Alijah’s Swimmers Scholarships program! The platform was founded by Allyson Alvarez and Eric Gonzalez, whose daughter Alijah was diagnosed on the autism spectrum at 14 months old. In 2019, Allyson and Eric experienced a tragedy, when they lost their daughter to a drowning accident. They later discovered the staggering statistics on childhood drownings for children with autism and knew that from then on, it would be their goal to bring awareness to drowning prevention.

In an effort to help educate the community on the increased risk of drowning that children with autism face, as well as honor their beautiful daughter, Allyson and Eric reached out to Goldfish – Winter Park, and partnered with the school to work together in creating a positive impact in the Florida community. Last year, in their first year of the scholarship program, they awarded 10 local children with a 3-month swim lesson package. The scholarships gave children in the area the opportunity to learn life-saving skills at Goldfish – Winter Park, where Allyson and Eric were confident they’d learn the skills they need to be safer in and around the water.

Meet Elijah, a 2021 Alijah’s Swimmer Scholarship Recipient!

Elijah standing in the Goldfish Swim School shop

One of the scholarship recipients from 2021 was eight-year-old Elijah, who had also been diagnosed with autism. His mom, Sherica, says that before receiving the scholarship, her concern was that her son had no fear of the water. Though she was glad he enjoyed it, she was worried that not fearing the water, paired with not knowing how to swim, could be dangerous for her child.

Sherica says that both Alijah’s Awareness and Goldfish – Winter Park have been a blessing in their lives. “It gave my son the opportunity to learn how to swim with instructors who have been very caring and work so well with him and his additional needs.” Elijah and Sherica continue to attend swim lessons each week at Goldfish and Sherica says he learns and improves with every lesson!

“Elijah’s experience with water has changed tremendously since beginning swim lessons at Goldfish. The school is giving him the tools to navigate the water more safely. He is learning how to swim and gets better each lesson!”

Elijah swimming in the water with the help of his instructor

This year, Alijah’s Awareness will provide another 10, three-month swim lesson scholarships to children in the community, giving them the chance to learn the life-saving skill of swimming. April 5th through 30th, those in or near Winter Park, Florida are encouraged to enter to become scholarship recipients or to nominate another deserving family. The recipients will be announced on Goldfish – Winter Park’s social media pages the first week in May – just in time for National Water Safety Month and summer swimming!

The Doctor’s Perspective: Super Powers & Safety

Goldfish’s O-fish-al Pediatrician, Dr. Molly O’Shea is behind the cause with full force, noting that children on the autism spectrum have a superpower – focus! “Often they get so focused on one thing that they can tune out everything else, even their own brain reminding them to be safe!” Dr. Molly recognizes that this can be incredibly valuable as kiddos are learning new skills, but that it can be dangerous if their focus lands on a pool or other body of water.

“As you prepare your child for swim lessons, think about their sensory superpowers and lean in!” If a child is hypersensitive, parents can work to help children feel in control of their power and their situation. If they crave sensory input, parents can help them use water as a sensory experience. “Either way, swimming can be a sensory win for your ASD superhero.”

There are many layers of drowning prevention that all parents should know! Dr. Molly specifically highlights the following four laters to help protect your ASD child from drowning:

  • Secure your home with door alarms, toilet locks and four-sided pool fences that lock

  • Always assign a Safer Swimmer Guard, or ‘Water Guardian’

  • Build neighborhood support – ask neighbors to keep an eye out, and to keep their pools fenced and locked

  • Enroll your child in swim lessons

It’s crucial to have a safe environment for kiddos to learn, grow and experience new things – water included!

Enrolling your child in special needs swim lessons gives them the skills they need to be safer in and around the water. Each individually-owned-and-operated Goldfish Swim School has different options to help all children learn how to swim! Reach out to your local Goldfish to learn more about their specific programs so that they can be sure your child has a Golden Experience! And don’t forget to visit Alijah’s Awareness’ website for more information about their mission to spread awareness about autism, water safety and drowning prevention.