The Swim Professor

Jim Reiser, M.S.

AUTISM LIVE TV on Learn-to-swim

Jim Reiser and Vi Hendley, authors and producers of Teaching Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder to Swim, were recently featured as special guests on Autism Live TV. 

Autism Live is an interactive webshow providing support, resources, information, facts, entertainment and inspiration to parents, teachers and practitioners working with children on the Autism Spectrum.  We are happy to share with you this special segment, hosted by Shannon Penrod and Nancy Alspaugh-Jackson, about learn-to-swim for children on the autism spectrum.


Shannon Penrod is the proud mother of a nine-year old who is recovering from Autism. Her son Jem was diagnosed at the age of two and a half after having lost virtually all of his language and social skills.

Helping her son on his journey through Autism became Shannon’s top priority. Whether it was researching new diets, learning the legal ins and outs of special education law or finding funding for ABA therapy, Shannon became her son’s best advocate and an advocate for many other families. In 2009, Shannon began the host and producer of Everyday Autism Miracles, a weekly radio show that focuses solely on Autism and hope.

An award winning stand-up comedienne, director and author, Shannon’s goal is to provide families with information and hope while on their journey through autism.

Nancy Alspaugh-Jackson is an Emmy award-winning, former national television producer and executive who pioneered the magazine program format with Westinghouse’s PM Magazine. After serving as Vice-President of Group W Productions, she served as executive producer for a number of network and nationally syndicated programs, including the long-running NBC talk show, LEEZA. A former high-powered television producer turned author and activist on the subject of fearless aging and autism awareness. She co-authored Not Your Mother’s Midlife: A Ten Step guide to Fearless Aging (Andrews McMeel) and Fearless Women: Midlife Portraits (Stewart, Tabori & Chang). She wrote and performed in the stage show “Boomer Babes” and has done motivational speaking to sold out audiences around the country.

She has been honored with the United Press International Award, the Associated Press Award, the Gabriel Award, the Genesis Award, as well as having been named one of the Hollywood Reporters “Women to Watch”. Having grown up with a younger brother with Down Syndrome, Alspaugh-Jackson was aware of the challenges families face raising special needs children. She feels it was no accident that she was given a special needs child to raise herself. Alspaugh-Jackson feels her most important assignment came after her adopted son Wyatt was diagnosed with autism at the age of three (Wyatt is now 11 and making tremendous progress). Although Wyatt started displaying signs of autism at the age of 2, he was not diagnosed with the disorder until three and a half and did not receive effective treatment until the age of four and a half.

With that in mind she began working to help other families find the resources for autism care and treatment. She became the executive director of ACT Today! (Autism Care and Treatment Today!), a national non-profit organization whose mission is to provide resources and fund grants for children whose families cannot afford the necessary tools their child needs to reach their full potential.

In the last five years, she has raised 5 million dollars for autism care and treatment, and launched the first national campaign for military children with autism, ACT Today! for Military Families.

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December 18, 2013 at 5:40 pm Comments (0)

Learning to Swim with Autism

Today’s blog features a letter from Swimming Instructor Pietjie Dauth of Namibia, a country in Southern Africa, who has reached out to us for guidance concerning a student she is teaching who has Asperger Syndrome.  Asperger syndrome is  considered a high functioning form of Autism,  an au   In today’s blog, I have shared the swim teacher’s letter, as well as the response from Vi Hendley, M. Ed. , Disorders & Autism Specialist, who co-authored the Swim Lessons University DVD TEACHING CHILDREN TO SWIM WITH AUTISM SPECTRUM DISORDERS.

Dear Vi and Jim,

I hope you have a great time leading up to Christmas.  Our city is nice and quiet this time of year, because 2 thirds of the Namibian population heads for the coast — so the traffic and rush is a lot less.  It is very hot, about 35oC (95oF).

I wrote to Jim about one of my students with Asperger Syndrome.  I have watched the DVD, Teaching Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder, which is great, but I’d love to share with you some specific information about my student, Jaco, and ask your advice on how to structure his lessons:


Jaco is 6 years old and received a lot of attention (related to his syndrome) already because his mother is an occupational therapist.  He likes numbers a lot, and his favorite cartoon is Sponge Bob.  He can swim already, though in his own way.  Jaco likes to go ‘”deep’” into the water – to the deepest spot in the pool that I am teaching, which is just about 4 ft.   Maybe to avoid the sounds?  I worked hard to get him to stay on the surface of the water.  I even have a toy crocodile to demonstrate.  His lung capacity is also very, very good, and he likes to dive for sticks.  You’ll be amazed at just how long he stays under water without coming up for breath.  He plays in the water, just like a little dolphin, and is very fond of water.

His parents would like to see him learn to swim the formal strokes (Freestyle to start with).  That is ‘their’ goal.

My observations & some things I tried

When I first met him, I immediately picked up his SHORT ATTENTION SPAN.  With other children I will keep the lesson time interesting & fun, with a variety of different exercises.  But this can actually be a problem because I find that when I change too sudden, he ‘doesn’t like’ it.

He also hates being on his back.  Through the years I found different methods of getting children to like being on their back, but Jaco just HATES it.  Is there an explanation for that?

He started to move his arms nicely as well as good kicking.  Yet, as I progress, it gets harder (for both of us).

I do other things too to help make him stronger and develop better balance:  like climbing onto a mat, climbing out of the pool, etc.  But he feels cold very quickly, and then he puts his foot down squarely!!

Sometimes I feel the learning process has reached a plateau – and I’m unsure as how to go further.  I have used the laminated cards too – that helps.  But the learning process seems to be so slow!!

On the positive side

Jaco is definitely enjoying his swimming!!  He is a pleasure to work with, and though he takes up lots of energy, I thoroughly enjoy working with him.  It is my desire to help special needs children — because I just know that they ENJOY the water too.  Well, any input is appreciated.  Thank you for your help!


Pietjie Dauth



I decided that I would help most my writing a blog specific on SWIMMING PLATEAUS, and defer to Vi on the specific issues that are closely regarded to her specialty, Teaching Children with Autism.  Here is Vi’s letter:

Dear Pietjie,

I hope you had a nice holiday.  I enjoyed mine, quietly at home with my dogs and husband.  I have friends who say that Africa is most beautiful!  Perhaps one day I too will be able to share in that beauty.

Though your information was quite thorough, I do not know Jaco, and as a result, you will need to make instructional decisions based on your knowledge of him. I hope to provide you some general information that may apply to your lessons.

1)      Use Jaco’s interest in Sponge Bob (SB) by introducing SB toys into your lessons. Use the toys to encourage Jaco to do as he is asked to do as a liked activity.  There are Sponge Bob pool toys available online.

2)      Develop a list of activities that will be performed during each lesson.  Make it visual, by listing using words (if he can read) or pictures. You may also want to include SB stickers on written directions to focus his attention. Depending on Jaco’s need for preparation for new activities, have his parents review the list with him periodically during the week and/or review it with Jaco before the lesson.

3)      Schedule each activity within the lesson with Jaco’s likes and dislikes in mind.  Be sure to remind Jaco of what will be coming up next. Start with a “liked” activity, followed by a new or “disliked” activity.  Follow the new/disliked with a liked activity.  Present 2 or 3 indifferent activities (preferably that reinforce the new or disliked activity) that Jaco will perform willingly, followed by a liked activity.  This is a self-reinforcing activity schedule format developed by a Psychologist named David Premack.

4)      If Jaco enjoys watching videos, YouTube has a plethora of swim videos that would allow him to watch freestyle swimmers. (I didn’t see one with SB however) You may also video tape him and edit the tape to include only his correct use of  movements in freestyle. If Jaco has a friend who is able to freestyle, consider videotaping his friend.

5)      Write a story in which SB is telling Jaco about the steps in freestyle and how important it is for him to learn how to use them to swim.

6)      Because Jaco’s mother is an OT, check with her regarding sensory integrative therapies.

If I can be of further assistance please do not hesitate to email us at !

Vi Hendley

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January 10, 2011 at 8:01 pm Comment (1)