Source: Indys Child Parenting Magazine

Get Active in Adaptive Sports

by Carrie Bishop

June 01, 2012

You never know what a child can achieve until they try. That’s what Laura Knauff, Carmel mom of two, has to say about adaptive sports. One of Knauff’s sons, Sam, has autism.

Sam, 13, has taken adaptive swim lessons at the Monon Community Center for about four years. He had tried a few other learn-to-swim spots, but none panned out. Then Sam and his mom met Brooke Taflinger, the inclusion supervisor at the Monon Community Center.

Taflinger, a former collegiate swimmer, is an advocate for people with special needs and has developed a strong adaptive sports program at the Monon Community Center. She was more than equipped to work with Sam.

When Sam first began swim sessions with Taflinger he would scream and yell for the duration of the lesson. Taflinger recalls him splashing and yelling “No! Stop! Get me out of here!” None of this derailed Taflinger’s patience though. She told Knauff that she was willing to stick it out if they were willing. Knauff certainly was.

“We started working on behaviors within the pool and the swim skills themselves. Now a couple years later Sam does not scream,” she said. His negative behavior crops up only rarely and Taflinger is pleased with his progress.

“We swim 16 laps in the pool, he knows all of the strokes, and he is starting to swim independently,” Taflinger said.

“Where we started and where we are now is miraculous,” Knauff said, explaining that learning to swim has been a slow process involving patience and repetition.

When Knauff began her swim lesson quest, her main goal was for Sam to become a safe swimmer, understanding that many kids with autism don’t have swim skills and are at high risk of drowning. She now believes him to be a safe swimmer, so worries a little less. Sam’s ability to swim is an important feat for the entire Knauff family as it is their tradition to vacation every year at the beach. It’s a long-standing family vacation that Sam and his family can now more fully enjoy.

When asked how Sam feels about swimming, Knauff said, “He’s been doing it so long it’s part of what he does. On Mondays he goes to swim. He doesn’t love his lesson, but he enjoys playing in the pool. The lessons he sees as work. He has to do laps with Brooke. He sees it more like something he has to do. I do think he is very proud of himself.”

Swimming, of course, is not the only adaptive sport in town. There’s horseback riding, soccer, baseball, basketball, gymnastics, volleyball, golf, and so many more. It’s worth a child’s time to give one or two sports a go. If not simply for the physical and mental benefits exercise brings to a body, then for the universal lessons kids gain from involvement in a sport like learning how to take turns, the value of teamwork, and the joy of rooting for others. These insights are as important on the court, in the pool or on the field as they are in everyday life.

To learn more about adaptive athletics look to organizations like Special Olympics, the YMCA, Carmel Dad’s Club, Power Kids gymnastics, Children’s TherAplay Foundation, and of course the Monon Community Center.

Taflinger herself is a great person to connect with because she does her best to make the community center’s adaptive programming work for families. She offers one-one-one therapy and sports skills lessons as well as small group opportunities. Getting involved is as easy as calling her and either signing up for an existing program or figuring out what may work well for your child.

“We are always trying to be innovative and try to think outside the box and provide things the community is in need of and interested in,” she said. Adaptive tae kwon do and cheer and dance camps are new this summer to Taflinger’s adaptive-sports lineup, as is adaptive slow rider lessons at the center’s outdoor water park. Now imagine that!

“I think it’s important to have these programs available. Having a child with special needs is isolating and terrifying. It’s important to get out in the community and realize there are parents going through this and to make great friends,” said Knauff.

Knauff believes it’s also good for the child to try new things and great for parents and the community to see him or her being successful.