After a summer filled with swimming lessons, local children will gather at the Miami Springs Pool for the annual “I Swim for Autism” event. The event will take place this Friday, July 26 and the Miami Springs pool is one of the first programs nationwide that teaches swimming lessons specifically designed for children living on the autistic spectrum.
Children living with autism, who have attended local summer camps like ISmile, AKTIV Learning Academy, and South Florida Child Development Center, will enjoy a fun day in the pool with City of Miami Springs lifeguards.
The day will provide parents with the opportunity to celebrate their child’s accomplishments, to enter the pool with their children, and enjoy a cookout. The day ends with each child receiving a bag of swim equipment to continue their efforts under the watchful eye of their parents.
The I Swim for Autism event was founded by Douglas Ramos in 2010.
“I started the program to provide children living with autism the proper swim equipment that would allow them to continue to improve even when the program was not running,” Ramos said. “I’ve worked with many of these kids since I was 14 and I wanted to give them something that would both motivate them and their parents to continue working on their swimming ability and would make swimming a little more fun.”
The event is based on one very important initiative — keeping children safe by teaching them water safety skills. Drowning is a very real danger to all children, but children living with autism are extremely susceptible. This important initiative requires a community-wide response. The community is represented in this case by Faith’s Place Autism Outreach, the City of Miami Springs, and Mayor Zavier Garcia, who is on the Faith’s Place board, the Miami Springs pool staff, the Miami Springs Rec Center staff, and all of the families, donors and supporters.
Faith’s Place Autism Outreach supports this final day at the pool. Throughout the summer, Faith’s Place and their volunteers raise money to fund the purchase of the swim equipment for the children who are part of the swim program. The equipment enables and inspires children to continue working on their swimming skills. They receive items like a swim bag, goggles, fins, kickboard, etc.
The Faith’s Place Autism Outreach focus is not just on summer swimming, but its primary mission is to ease the financial barriers that families of children living with autism sometimes face by providing scholarships to ensure these children receive early intervention and needed therapies so they can develop to their fullest potential.
“Being a part of this program has been a life-changing experience for me,” said Noel Acosta, athletic supervisor for Miami Springs Parks and Recreation. “I have learned as much from the children as I have taught them. It has made me a better teacher and a better person.”
This special swim program actually got its start in 2007, when Ramos was just in eighth grade. Ramos’ youngest brother, Pat, who happens to be on the autistic spectrum, was in the pool daily, being taught how to swim by Noel Acosta. At the time, Sam Rettig, a Miami Springs swim instructor, watched Acosta as he taught Pat how to swim. No one would believe that Pat, who is now like a fish in the water, was once filled with tears when the water touched his skin. Noel Acosta was there, day after day, until Pat got it. Rettig was moved by the bond that the two shared and wanted to create a summer program to help other children.
Rettig’s idea took off and a great force behind it all was Douglas Ramos and his swim team. For five summers, they spent every weekday in the pool with children. They taught right alongside the lifeguards.
Angie Fernandez’s son participates every year. “Honestly, it is one of the best experiences Michael has ever had. I am forever grateful that my son has had the opportunity to work with such an amazing group of people throughout the summers.”
“So many people have worked hard to keep this program going above and beyond,” said Robin Ramos of Faith’s Place. “I met with the Rec Center three summers ago; they quickly said yes to helping our children experience a variety of sports to include but not limited to swim.”
Today, children living with autism who are enrolled in local programs are enjoying the ability to learn and take part in many other sports at the Rec Center. Rettig left a few years ago, but she would be proud to know that the program has continued and expanded. It lives on today through the heartfelt efforts of many.