YMCA and Autism Delaware Team Up to offer Swimming Program for People with Autism

Swim instructor Taylor Deyman with student Ryan Stansell.

We are excited to announce a new partnership with Autism Delaware, offering a water safety program to children and adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Through this collaboration, Autism Delaware provides training to YMCA swim instructors and in exchange, the YMCA will provide S.W.A.M. (Swimming With Autism) sessions to the community. Currently, the program is underway at the Brandywine, Downtown Wilmington and Sussex Ys, with plans to expand to all Delaware locations in the near future.

Knowledge of water safety is critical for individuals with autism because they tend to be drawn to water due to its sensory nature. People with autism are known to wander or bolt ( also called “elope”) and face a huge risk if they go near water. According to the National Autism Association, drowning accounts for approximately 90 percent of deaths associated with wandering children with ASD who are under the age of 14.

Teaching water safety to people with autism carries its own set of special considerations. “Swim instructors need to be aware of sensory issues,” said Annalisa Ekbladh, Director of Policy and Family Services at Autism Delaware. “They may be more sensitive to the water and to the noise around them. Cognitive processing speed is another issue, as they may process information differently.”

“At the Y, we believe every child deserves the opportunity to learn how to swim,” said Deborah Bagatta-Bowles, YMCA of Delaware President and CEO. “We save lives every day with our drowning prevention initiatives, teaching important water safety skills to children and adults of all ages, backgrounds and abilities. We are pleased that our partnership with Autism Delaware will allow us to expand our services to people with autism, helping to put parents’ minds at ease and teach children how to be confident and have fun in the water safely.”

Parents at the Brandywine Y applauded the decision to expand S.W.A.M. Melissa Stansell said her 13-year old son, Ryan, is now ready to take his survival and recreational swimming to a competitive level.

“Ryan has always loved the water,” says Melissa Stansell. With the patience and perseverance of the instructors, he is able to participate fully with his peers, giving him more opportunity for inclusion. Kudos and thanks to Autism Delaware and the Y for this amazing program!”

Kala Montgomery has also seen her son benefit from the S.W.A.M. program at Brandywine. “I’ve seen Traycen’s self-esteem and confidence bloom with each passing week,” she noted.

“Through this collaboration with the YMCA, we are now providing safe, inclusive, recreational swimming opportunities throughout the year,” said Brian Hall, Autism Delaware Executive Director “This is the kind of opportunity that helps build community acceptance.”

Parents and caregivers who would like to enroll a loved one in a S.W.A.M. program should directly contact the aquatics department at their local Delaware YMCA.


Our Mission


The YMCA is an association of people of all ages, ethnic groups and religious affiliations that strives to cultivate the human potential, self-esteem, and dignity of all people. Our organization exists to develop and practice the Christian principles of love, caring, inclusiveness, justice and peace…and to enrich the emotional, physical and social life of all individuals, families and our community.