Swimming Through Obstacles: Owen’s Story

Owen Isaacks’ parents, Megan and Jason, were nervous to enroll Owen in swim lessons for a few reasons. Owen was in the “stranger danger” phase of toddlerhood, and when they took him to pools he was scared to go in the water – a common experience among parents. Another reason was that Owen was born with a genetic condition called phocomelia, which caused his right arm to not fully develop. Owen has a small hand with three fingers that developed off of his right shoulder so he has no limb or arm on that side.

Owen’s parents knew he would have many obstacles in his life, and they were hesitant to begin swim lessons thinking swimming is all about arm and leg power. However, they knew that swimming was not only a life skill, but it could save Owen’s life since drowning is a leading cause of death among children.

Megan’s background in social work, and her experience with adults who have intellectual and physical disabilities, propelled her to look for a swim lesson provider that focuses on swim lessons for ALL children. She knew Owen would figure out his own way to swim, but she wanted to enroll him at a place with trained instructors who could work with Owen on overcoming his fears of the water, and could teach him how to use his arm to swim – and how to keep himself safe if he finds himself in a dangerous, water-related situation.

At 4 years old Owen had his first swim lesson at Goldfish Swim School. He did not want to get into the water and screamed and cried at first. However, Owen’s instructor engaged him, carefully took him into the water and his tears quickly turned into smiles. The instructor spent the first session one-on-one with Owen, which made Megan’s heart smile watching the instructor gently putting him at ease. Now, Owen has an instructor, Caleb, who has always made sure Owen is confident, comfortable, and ready before he encourages Owen to learn new skills.

With swimming season on the horizon, Megan wants other parents who might be facing similar challenges to know that they shouldn’t wait to teach their children how to swim, whether their child is fearful, has a sensitive temperament or a physical disability. Learning to swim could save their life. Here are tips for parents who are considering activities like swimming for their children.

5 Tips for Finding Activities for Children with Disabilities:

  • Consider the activity’s social and mental benefits, as well as the physical: There are social and mental benefits for children who participate in activities like swim lessons. The confidence that Owen has gained has made him more comfortable in the pool. In the water, he is having fun and learning how to swim and be safe in the water.
  • Seek activities that welcome children of varying abilities. Goldfish Swim School is inclusive and focused on teaching ALL children how to swim.
  • Ask about modifications that can be made to fit your child’s needs. Despite his initial fear of the water, the Goldfish staff is encouraging and friendly and they’ve found ways to modify activities to fit his specific needs.
  • Don’t assume certain activities might not be an option. Many parents might assume that they need to find a specialty instructor or therapeutic class for their child. Goldfish is a fantastic place for kids with differences to participate alongside their typical peers and experience swim lessons like everyone else.
  • If at first your child is nervous about the new experience, give it time. When you know your child is scared of a certain activity, it’s tempting to step in or even stop lessons when your child is in distress. Stick with it. Step away and let the instructors help your child through the process of getting comfortable.




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