Siblings Succeed in Special Swim Session


Sandra Burgess is the proud grandmother of two children with special needs. She tried general swim lessons but didn’t see any progress until she signed them up for the Tampa Y’s adaptive mobile swim lessons, generously funded by the Children’s Board of Hillsborough County.


Her granddaughter, 6-year-old Arianna, has anxiety and recently had eye surgery. Her grandson, 5-year-old CJ, has trouble listening. “For Arianna, she has to trust you,” Sandra says. “CJ needs help following instructions. In a group of kids, he’s going to run off and do what he wants to do.”


Tampa Y swim instructor Meghan Sadowski could really see the progress after their last lesson at the Northwest Hillsborough Family YMCA. “With CJ, he just wanted to jump, jump, jump, and today he started finally scooping, kicking and listening to the directions,” she says. “With Arianna, having her jump all by herself out to me was just a huge accomplishment. Because of her eye surgery, we had to gain a lot of trust before we could ever put her face in the water and blow bubbles and today, for example, she was blowing bubbles.”


Sandra says she’s seen the progress as well. “Arianna keeps saying, ‘look I can swim. I can get to the wall.’ She knows that’s a big deal,” she says. “CJ’s doing much better and has a little bit more concept of the drowning issue. He didn’t have that before. I know where their weaknesses are as where he has no fear she has all the extra fear.”


Sandra also says having them together in private lessons helped. “It was good because Arianna could feed off CJ’s lack of fear and he could try to learn a little bit of caution from her, so we thought it would be a good mix because they’re at each end of the (autism) spectrum,” shares Sandra.


Sandra says swim lessons are important because accidents happen. “My pool is gated and locked. It’s human error. Kids don’t understand drowning. That’s why you see these special needs kids who went missing and drowned,” she says. “Because you can be the greatest parent, guardian, caretaker; it happens. It’s sad. Most of those tragedies are accidents that took a few seconds.”


CJ and Arianna received free private swim lessons through a Tampa YMCA partnership with the Children’s Board of Hillsborough County and its “Be Water Smart from the Start” initiative for special needs children. For more information, click here or contact Director of Mobile Swim Chris Alaynick at or 813.224.9622, ext. 1292.


Pictured above: CJ, Tampa Y swim instructor Meghan Sadowski, and Arianna dry off after their last mobile swim lesson at the Northwest Hillsborough Family YMCA.

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