WEEKI WACHEE, Fla. (WFLA) – 4-year-old Edgar isn’t afraid of the water and that’s exactly what makes his mom, Jennifer Quinn, nervous.
“He would stare out the back window at the water,” Quinn said. “When we’d go on family vacations he was always first to just march right in the water.”
Little Edgar has Down Syndrome. Like most kids with down’s, and even autism, he’s extremely interested in water. Quinn knew she had to match that curiosity with preparedness. She enrolled Edgar, and her other kids, in swim instruction through Aqua Minnies.
Brigitte Strickland teaches the infant survival classes in her backyard pool in Weeki Wachee. She started teaching after seeing what a difference it made for her kids. “A lot of it has to do with trust forming,” Strickland said. “We don’t start floats until the second week. I give a lot of hugs, kisses, stickers, and cuddles, and just really try to build trust with child. Strickland gives lessons everyday in just ten minute intervals. Edgar is one of her best students. “It’s amazing,” Strickland said. “He’s doing way better than some kids, he’s just awesome.”
Dr. Alexis Major, Edgar’s pediatrician, signs off on swim lessons for kids. “I think it is so beneficial,” Major said. “It’s not just for kids with Down Syndrome specifically but also kids with Austim. They have a great curiosity of water. Even if it’s just swimming strategies, it gives you that five minute lead. That’s the crucial time period for when a parent realizes what’s happening and can get to the child.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics changed its position on children swimming just a few years ago. Before it recommended waiting a few years before putting a child in swim class. Now the academy believes children as young as one can benefit from swim lessons.
In 2012, Jenny Caballero, an 11-year-old girl with Down Syndrome wandered away from Rodgers Middle School in Riverview and drowned in a retention pond. It comforts Quinn knowing that after only three weeks of lessons, her kids can already float on their backs and call for help if needed. “It gives me major peace of mind,” Quinn said. “I think there’s a misconception that good parents don’t lose their kids to drowning and they do. This helps us know that if they get out of our sight for just a minute they at least have a chance at saving themselves.”
Strickland’s lessons last four to six weeks, depending on age and skill. As for Quinn, she wants other moms of kids with special needs, to be proactive and start swim lessons. “Despite Down Syndrome and a shortened limb, it’s not stopping him from swimming,” Quinn said.