Families Find Freedom to Splash at CSUN’s Center for Achievement

By Natalie Hammer Noblitt

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Swimmers of all abilities find an inclusive place to play and learn in the water at CSUN. PHOTO COURTESY CSUN

Kids and water can be a natural recipe for fun, but parents sometimes struggle to find a comfortable and safe swim environment for children with different abilities. An adaptive aquatics program at Cal State Northridge fills this need – and offers valuable experience for future occupational and physical therapists.

At CSUN’s Center of Achievement, children age 3-18 with disabilities can enjoy activities in a therapeutic indoor pool. Adaptive Aquatics for Children emphasizes individual goals for aquatic skills, including basic swimming and water safety, and helps participants improve balance and mobility.

Undergraduate kinesiology students provide one-on-one guidance and bring a lot of energy to the pool, says Teri Todd, Ph.D., an associate professor at CSUN and director of clinical operations in the kinesiology department. The students use their classroom knowledge to design fun and beneficial activities for the children, and gain hands-on experience working with individuals and families.

“The students are always very excited to work with the children,” Todd says. “They are so eager for the interaction and the chance to learn. This isn’t a job to them, it’s something they really look forward to as part of their studies.”

Children also benefit from the social setting where they can splash and play with peers, and work on their goals in individual and group activities. The buoyancy of the water allows children with mobility challenges to move more freely than they can on land and the warmth of the pool’s therapeutic water temperature, set between 92 and 94 degrees Fahrenheit, provides a comfortable environment for all. The program’s two pools are designed specifically for accessibility. “The pools are very special because the smaller one features a moveable floor that can raise to floor height and then lower participants into the water gently,” says Todd. “The larger pool has ramps for easy access and multiple options that can benefit children of all abilities.”

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Isabella Forain enjoys the play-based learning at CSUN’s inclusive adaptive aquatics program. PHOTO COURTESY NATALIE HAMMER NOBLITT

The bond the participants and the student instructors develop in the pools is undeniable, families say. “The center offers a fantastic opportunity for children with a variety of special needs to swim and enjoy the water in a safe, fun environment,” says Lee Ann Faeth, whose middle school-age son participates in the class. “It also offers future occupational and physical therapists the gift of learning about children with special needs with an open heart and mind. It’s a win-win for all and I highly recommend it!”

Sessions are offered during the fall, spring and summer semesters and many participants return each semester to work with a new group of kinesiology students. “I love the fact that it is play based and the students are so enthusiastic in their work with the kids,” says Marina Forain, whose daughter, Isabella, participates in the program. “The water is Isabella’s favorite thing.”

The Center of Achievement pools opened in 2003 at CSUN’s Brown Center, located on campus at the corner of Plummer Street and Lindley Avenue, and the adaptive aquatics programming was created soon after. While the programs have expanded greatly since their beginnings, staff say they hope to continue growing the number of participants.

During the fall and spring, the programs run two days a week for 13 weeks, taking time off for university holidays. Summer programs run nine to 10 weeks. Children are divided into two groups, with older kids and teens typically meeting from 4:30-5:20 p.m. Mondays and Wednesday and younger children meeting from 3:30-4:20 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays. Pricing can vary based on participation, and a campus parking permit is recommended for purchase.

For more information on the fall session, which begins Sept. 11, call 818-677-2182.

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