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Local Swim Lessons for Children with Special Needs

Below is a list of local swim programs in Westchester County, Fairfield County, and New York City to help children with special needs learn to swim, learn water safety, and become more independent.




Swim Angelfish
Locations in Danbury, Greenwich, Norwalk, Stamford, Westport, and Wilton, CT, and Tarrytown, NY
Ailene Tisser, owner

Offers myriad programs to suit the needs to swimmers with various special needs—all programs are one-on-one or semi-private and take place in a temperature-controlled (88-92 degrees) pool for increased range of motion and decreased pain. Angelfish Aquatic Therapy targets specific areas that swimmers want to strengthen, and focuses on realizing the student’s ability, and expanding independence in the pool.

Swim Whisperer swim lessons focus on kids with autism, PDD-NOS, and sensory discomfort. Instructors are trained to help swimmers overcome the 14 most common roadblocks in children with sensory difficulties, including using picture communication and visual schedules. For children hesitant to go under water, instructors grade sensory limits for each student, and make strides to get them under water in a way that makes them feel most comfortable. Post-pool, students will work on limiting the adrenaline they feel so they can associate the pool with a positive experience.

The Adapted Swim Angels program is intended for swimmers with physical disabilities, including muscular dystrophy and Rett syndrome. Angelfish instructors use adaptive equipment, including ankle weights, large noodles, flotation collars, flippers, barbells, and dumbbells that help students control their bodies, float, learn safety and strength, and find independence in the water.

Students with ADD/ADHD work on different tricks to organize their body, as well as sensory strategies.

Angelfish Training is available for parents, caregivers, and swim instructors to learn the most up-to-date techniques on successfully teaching children with a variety of special needs how to swim with confidence.


My Swim for Kids
Gerald Cox, founder

Communication with parents is key in this program to give one-on-one instructors a better handle on a child’s strengths and weaknesses. For children with autism, Cox employs counting games, such as how many strokes it takes the child to swim from one end of the pool to the other, or the number of bubbles a child can blow under water.


Pace University Aquatics Program
Katherine Palladino, aquatics director

Children with a variety of special needs are taught one-on-one, and paired with one instructor—a handful of which are also special educators—for the duration of their time in the program to provide consistency. Instructors will work with children using a variety of exercises to build swimming skills. For example, a child with motor coordination issues may work on kicking in the water by using a kickboard, which helps keep them afloat.  


Stamford JCC
1035 Newfield Ave., Stamford, CT
Daniel Servelli, director of aquatics and head swim team coach

Swim lessons are tailored to the specific abilities of each child with special needs. For nonverbal swimmers, instruction is very visual and the instructors demonstrate swimming moves. Parents are also asked to remain close by to assist in communicating with the child f the instructor feels it would benefit the lesson. For children who have issues with overstimulation, more breaks are built into each lesson to promote calmness and focus. For children who have physical disabilities, the lessons are focused on strengthening weaknesses to support the body in the water.



Snack* Swim Program
Jackie Ceonzo, founder and executive director
316 E. 53rd Street, Midtown East

Swim lessons are adapted from the Red Cross Safety Training for Swim Coaches protocol to meet the needs of a child with special needs. Lessons are one-on-one with certified swim coaches and instructors that have been privately trained to instruct children with special needs. For non-verbal swimmers, instructors use visual modeling to show the student what to do. Instructors are patient with swimmers who have ADD/ADHD as well as challenging behavioral issues, such as kids prone to tantrums or not following direction. The program is welcoming to all children on the spectrum.

92Y Special Needs Program for Children
1395 Lexington Ave., Upper East Side
Lane Wineski, director of aquatics

Offers group and private swimming lessons to children with disabilities. Instructors provide support, hints, and cues to swimmers that can be verbal or illustrative. Basic water skills such as breathing, maneuvering underwater, and flotation are mastered prior to teaching various strokes.

Take Me to the Water Swim School
Locations in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, Westchester, and New Jersey

Services a lot of camps for children with special needs. Believes that kids with special needs aren’t different, they just need to be taught differently. Generally, teaches special needs kids that they can float in the water. When they’re on their stomach, they naturally go into a vertical position. If they can lie on their back, they can spread their arms and legs they can float. That’s the best thing to teach someone that often has learning disabilities.

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