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Special Needs Make a Splash

By Ellen Hovde
Special Needs Make a Splash

The International School of Aberdeen (ISA), Scotland, is a hub for the community and welcomes all groups outside the ISA community to congregate. For four years, Mr. Brad Ill, Aquatics Director, has sponsored a Saturday Swim session for children with cancer, other medical issues, or special needs.
Children’s medical conditions include cancer, cerebral palsy, and autism, as well as physical or learning disabilities. Each Saturday during the school year, the ISA pool hosts around 15 to 25 medically-challenged kids ranging from three to 15 years old, but encourages and welcomes kids of all ages.
Brad started this program after working at the Ronald McDonald Camp for Good Times in the coastal mountains near Santa Barbara, California after his university years. This organization specializes in providing a summer camp experience for children with cancer. He was a lead instructor at the camp, where he gained a lot of experience and perspective. Camp for Good Times was such a great experience for both the children and Brad that he decided he wanted to bring the same joy to children with medical issues in Aberdeen.
For an hour and a half each week, children with special needs can escape from their wheelchairs, beds, and hospital rooms and play and splash around with family members. Saturday Swim sessions are fun for the whole family, as siblings and parents are encouraged to join the children in the water—a great bonding experience for families.
Saturday Swim sessions are very beneficial for children with medical disabilities and for patients who have had to remain inactive for prolonged periods of time, since swimming is an excellent way of exercising all major muscle groups. Splashing around in the pool and playing in the water provides a much-needed means for sick children to maintain a healthy lifestyle. For children recovering from surgery or illness, swimming is one of the safest and most comfortable ways to get back into exercise.
ISA high school students volunteer to help in the water because most of the guests cannot swim or move without assistance. Saturday Swim is a fantastic way for ISA students to provide a community service and dedicate their time to a terrific cause. It is an incredible opportunity for students to give back to the community, make an impact on someone else’s life, and have a wonderful time while they’re at it. Whenever the kids are in the water, they have huge smiles on their faces as they love playing with pool toys, other children, their family members, and student volunteers.
The ISA Saturday Swim sessions have given these children a chance to experience the pool and, most importantly, have fun. Many volunteers have said that this was an excellent learning experience and that they have gained so much from this amazing opportunity. Over time, many of the students have developed friendships with the children and families with whom they swim.
Tony Wishart, 2014 ISA and IB graduate stated, “I volunteered for about a year and a half and it was an awesome experience playing with the kids. This experience helped me become more comfortable around little kids and made me want to keep volunteering. One of my fondest memories was when one of the children decided to get into one of the buckets and so I took her into the water and carried her around in it. She was so happy and so cute!”
The International School of Aberdeen, with Brad’s guidance, has established an amazing opportunity at ISA that not only benefits the children with needs but also their family members and the volunteers who assist them. It is our pleasure in this article to share our experience; we are confident your community would also benefit should you decide to do a similar program.

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