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Local swim team offers inclusive classes

YUMA, Ariz. (KYMA, KECY) - April is autism awareness month and one local swim team is doing their part to make sure that those on the spectrum feel included and stay safe.

“So we started Yuma Aqua Academy because our own son, his name is Rocky, he is 5 years old and he is autistic, he is nonverbal and he is an eloper and he loves the water. There was nowhere in town that offered any lessons specifically for him," said Laiza Smith, Yuma Aqua Academy co-owner.

Yuma Aqua Academy is the only team within a 300-mile radius that is autism swim-approved by Autism Swims. 

The coach and co-owner of the swim team said no two kids are alike when it comes to finding the class that fits their needs. 

“It's a spectrum. So wherever they are feel comfortable, it's how we do it…I have kids at my beginner level and my novus level and our junior level and even our senior level," said Smith.

About 20-25 percent of those part of the team are neurodivergent. 

“To be a normal environment, for everyone not to be like oh that kid is autistic they can’t do that, no no no everyone who wants to join you can do it who feel comfortable does it," explained Smith.

Inclusivity is not the only thing they strive for. 

“Having something for them to be part of, year-round not just during the summer which is really important because anyone can drown at any time of the year," said Smith.

According to the Red Cross, kids on the spectrum are 160 times more likely to drown compared to those who are neurotypical.

I spoke with one mom who has three neurotypical kids on the team saying there is a lack of inclusive activities in our community. 

“Now that the Yuma rankens have opened up this opportunity, I hope that it does grow but I don’t see that area growing in the community unfortunately. So it’s really refreshing to see someone doing something about it," expressed Imelda Perez, swim mom.

Currently, the Yuma Aqua Academy is in the process of officially being recognized as the third swim team in the city. 

Article Topic Follows: Yuma County

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Valeria Rodriguez

Valeria Rodriguez joined the KYMA team as a multimedia journalist in June 2023.
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