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School in West Palm Beach teaching children on the spectrum vital life skill of swimming

Posted at 11:34 PM, Apr 19, 2018

Water is a daily part of life here in South Florida but for those who have a child with autism, it can be scary.

The number one cause of death for children with autism under the age of 14 is drowning.

And in honor of Autism Awareness Month, a local school is showing us how families can prevent that.

Connections Education Center of the Palm Beaches has kicked off a very special class this school year where they are teaching the vital life skill of swimming to children on the spectrum.

Four-year old Mary is one of those children. She is scared of the water

"This happened recently. Her mom used to take her to go swimming all the time," said Tracey Suggs, a teacher at Connections Education Center.

But during swimming class on Thursday, you can’t even see her fear.

"I'm so proud of you!" said Suggs, after Mary jumped into the water on her own.

This school year, instructors have been teacher Mary and her classmates how to protect themselves in the water.

“it’s a social activity, it’s a occupational therapy activity and ultimately, we’re teaching them to be safe," said Suggs.

The class is called Aquatic Learning Enrichment Course  or A.L.E.C." for short, named in honor of former student, Alec Surmont.

“The water was like our family space, our peaceful space," said Emily Surmont, Alec's sister.

Four years ago, Alec died in a tragic drowning accident when he was 16.

But on Thursday, his sister and twin brother are watching his legacy and love for the water live on.

“Water safety for anyone is important, especially these kids," said Emily.

Swimming instructor Katie Wentley works with dozens of students.

“Teaching treading water, floating on their back, rolling from their tummy to their back if they’re tired," she said.

She said classes like these can often be too expensive.

“We found that there is a need in our community for swim lessons for students with autism," she said.

So the school is making the swimming lessons a part of their regular curriculum every week.

“It takes a lot of that pressure off the parent," Wentley said.

The school hopes to eventually make these classes open to the public to reach even more families of children on the spectrum.

“They're clearly learning and are sharing and understanding and sharing in the joy," said Wentley. "And it’s such a gift that I’m able to share with them.”

Right now, the center is expanding and working to build its own aquatic center for both the students and the public. They have been raising money and collecting donations to go toward ongoing construction efforts.