Kids with special needs are spoilt for choice when it comes to swimming in Chennai!
The daily dip in the swimming pool is the brightest spot in Prajju’s day. Come rain or shine, nothing can keep this 11-year-old from taking a plunge. An opportunity her mother Sumathi Raghu struggled to find in Hong Kong where the family lived before moving to Chennai three years ago.
“Prajju loves the water and she has some developmental delays but the coaches in Hong Kong would refuse to teach when we would tell them she was a special needs child”, says Sumathi.
In Chennai, Sumathi was able to find coaches who focus on teaching swimming to kids with special needs. Prajju has made such amazing progress that she will soon be sent for meets.
“Swimming is therapeutic for Prajju as it calms her down. Being in the water is good for her sensory needs and there is a difference in the way she behaves when she is in the water. She listens to instructions, which is very hard otherwise!” – Sumathi Raghu, Parent of special needs child
There are six pools in Chennai where children with special needs are taught swimming, and the person credited with starting the trend 7-8 years ago is Prashanti Matttaparthi. Prashanti was looking for a coach to teach her son Rahul, who has mild CDLS. Cornelia de Lange syndrome is a developmental disorder that affects many parts of the body.
Growing demand for coaches for kids with special needs
She met Satish Kumar who was a swimming coach, but had no experience teaching kids with special needs. But unlike some other coaches, he was open to teaching a special needs child. He took rahul under his wing and as word spread, more parents started reaching out. Today that number has grown and there 13 coaches in the city who teach swimming to kids with disabilities.
”Handling a special needs child needs patience and emotional balance. These coaches have a real passion and commitment to such kids. They also take fitness sessions and do fun things like picnics. Many mothers trust them enough to leave the children with them” – Prashanti Mattaparthi, Parent of special needs kid
More pools & coaches in Chennai coming on board
Satish Kumar, who is the Special Olympics coach for Tamil Nadu, believes that to teach a special needs child, every coach needs to form an understanding with the parents as well.
”There has to be good communication between parents and coaches. Coaches have to understand how the child behaves, what the issue is. I am a general swim coach and over the years I have learned how to communicate with these children. You have to give them individual attention” - Special Olympics Coach, Tamil Nadu
Under his eagle eye, many of these kids have gone on to win national awards in swimming. For Kumar himself, this has become such a passion that he plans to do a course in special education this year to further fine tune his skills. An approach many other coaches across India could learn from.