Angelfish of the Month
Our Angelfish of the Month is Riley, an intelligent, charming, and funny 12 year old with no serious developmental issues who nonetheless had difficulty learning to swim. He plays tennis and has many hobbies, but simply couldn’t overcome certain obstacles when it came to swimming. While he was never given a formal diagnosis, among the issues identified by his pediatrician and other professionals were sensory integration and motor coordination difficulties.
But what started out as a sensory based aversion — due to a lack of body awareness in the water and some retained primitive movement patterns — soon turned into a very real fear. He simply would not let go of the side in deep water and was very fearful about putting his face underwater. He would panic when he got tired, and didn’t know how to control his body to safely continue swimming.
In January, Riley’s mother Terri — who had tried other more traditional swim programs over the years with no success — learned about the success we’ve had with our Aquatic Therapy and Swim Whisperers programs, and reached out to us.
As she told us: “Riley will go into the water, he loves splashing and playing with balls and toys, but he won’t tread water or enter deeper areas because he will not put his head underwater. By now, the whole aura surrounding Riley’s fear of the water has become the elephant in the room that needs to be dealt with as a high priority. His lack of confidence is obvious, but it’s also like he’s just waiting for someone to say the right things and show him the right way to get this skill.”
So in February, Terri and Riley traveled up from Washington DC to spend four days with us, so that we could do an aquatic therapy intensive with him, to identify what his obstacles were and hopefully help him to overcome them. From day one, we quickly got to know Riley, saw what a wonderful and eager young man he was, and identified what his key swimming obstacles seemed to be:
- Wouldn’t put his head underwater;
- Could swim short distances on his back, then panicked once he fatigued;
- Had never jumped into the pool before;
- Had never swam with his face under the water before;
- Was fearful of deep water.
Based on these roadblocks, we established with Riley and his mother the following goals:
- To feel comfortable putting his head underwater;
- To decrease panic after short distance swimming;
- To learn how to jump into the water and swim safely to the side of the pool;
- To learn some swim strokes, and feel confident that he can control his body in the water.
We started Riley with daily one-on-one aquatic therapy treatment, and towards the end of his stay, he received a swim lesson from one of our instructors using our Swim Whisperers techniques. We’re happy to say that by the time he went home, he was successfully doing front crawl and back crawl with improved coordination and confidence, felt comfortable putting his head under, felt less panic, and was even jumping into the pool and doing a forward roll.
In May, we received this progress report from Terri: ”Riley has been in traditional swim lessons now for about 2 months and has mastered freestyle, he treads water more comfortably and can jump into deep water over his head and actually enjoy it! It has been a long process, but once in a pool, Riley now spends more time underwater than above it, and he uses the pool just like any kid who has been swimming his entire life.”
Early on, we realized that Riley, like so many other children, always had the desire and skill within him required to be a swimmer — he just needed to be shown how to work around his anxieties and how to be more spatially aware of his body in the water. Once he was given these tools, the rest just fell into place with a bit more work. Best of all, throughout the process, Riley had a smile on his face!
Below is a video of Riley working with Ailene in the pool. As you watch it, keep track of the goals that were set, and how he knocks them all off one by one.
Here’s what Riley’s mother has to say about his experience with Angelfish Therapy …
For the first time in his young life, Riley feels comfortable going underwater, and after all our struggles with years of traditional swim lessons, that is a very big deal for Riley and for me. You changed our lives, and I will never forget that.
. . .
We have since been back to the pool where Riley took so many swim lessons over 5 or more years without fully adjusting to the water. He remembered those experiences in this place but proudly overcame them by swimming underwater as if he had never struggled with it. This week, he swam 8 laps of the pool underwater using a mask and snorkel — by himself and without lifting his face from the water even once. That was amazing!
. . .
So thank you. You are one-in-a-million, and what you have done for Riley will open the world for him in ways we can only imagine at this point. Please know that Riley understands more than anyone else exactly what you have done for him, and he knows that no words can express how he feels about you. Your whispers were heard, and this one little boy is much happier for having heard them at the right time in his young life.