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Learning to swim is for everyone

Knox Leisureworks pool
BBQ at Knox Leisureworks

Consider the sounds of your local pool: amplified screams and splashes and the tumble of bags and clothes and people. Now imagine the sensory overload of this environment for people living with autism.

Learning to swim is not a luxury – it’s an essential skill that should be accessible to all members of the community. Knox Leisureworks, in partnership with Different Journeys, a support organisation created by families and individuals with autism, and Interchange Outer East, offer pool nights that provide a special low-sensory environment. These events, supported by a Council community grant, help to encourage people on the autism spectrum into the water.

“There are no obstacles at the pool entrance; no racks of clothing,” says Different Journeys co-founder Mel Spencer. “It’s a clear space with easy access. There are no wristbands.” Music and lighting are also kept to a minimum.

“These nights are about capacity building,” says Mel. “They allow people to get used to the facility without the overstimulation of general opening hours.”

The program is run in collaboration with Melbourne Autism Lions Club, which supplies a barbecue dinner. “Everyone congregates and eats a meal together – all ages, sharing experiences and connections,” says Mel. “It’s a two-way learning experience.”

“We’re also educating the staff, who are watching us interact with people and learning how to make it an inclusive space,” Mel says. “We’re continually taking feedback from within our own community to improve the service.”

The nights are great for parents and carers, who find the stress and judgement of regular swimming trips difficult to endure. “I’ve had parents tell me they can finally sit and watch their child instead of hovering and causing them more anxiety.”

The January swim night was booked out in 24 hours – with 100 people attending.

#BeKindKnox #KnoxActsofKindness

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