Twelve years ago in Tuscaloosa, Dustin Fields drowned, just beyond the safe confines of home, because he hadn't learned to swim.
Dustin had ASD and there wasn't a local swim program available where he "fit". About that time, I ventured to Tuscaloosa to start an learn-to-swim program. As a swim coach, Instructor, and lifelong swimmer, I know well the benefits of water and its inherent dangers. My dream was to build a program of safe swimming for those who are often sidelined because of the expense.
Dustin's parents approached the American Red Cross for help in finding lessons for his younger brother, Chase, also diagnosed with ASD. None of the local programs could accommodate his needs, or those of the growing population of West Alabama children on the Spectrum. The Red Cross connected me with Arts 'n Autism's parent support group and—in partnership with Tuscaloosa firefighters as one-on-one aides—we created a swim program specifically tailored to "fit" children diagnosed with ASD.
Since then, hundreds of children, aged 3 - 18, have learned to safely enter and exit the water; to swim and play and enjoy group and family outings to pools, lakes, water parks and the beach.
And Chase? He AND his mom not only learned to swim, but make an annual trip to swim with the dolphins in Dustin's memory.
Dustin's life here may have been short, but in his memory, we've crafted a legacy, so EVERY child has the opportunity to safely experience all the wonders of the water.
- Kathleen Walsh, swim instructor