October 3, 2019

From terrified of deep water, to completing his Swimming Merit Badge and ALL of the requirements for the Lifesaving Merit Badge

Max arrived at the Central YMCA, he was terrified of deep water. He was adamant that he wouldn’t go anywhere near “the deep” end and wouldn’t even enter the water without the security of some type of floatation device. Max had always loved bath time as an infant, but as he grew older, doctors “benched” him from the water in order to treat ear infections and hearing loss. From ages 2-10 years old, Max had 9 sets of Eustachian tubes. Simultaneous to his ear challenges, Max also developed clinical levels of anxiety which became pervasive in his life. As parents, it broke our hearts to see Max paralyzed with fear and anxiety. At age 11, Max was finally cleared to be back in the water with the go-ahead to learn how to swim. However, at this point, his situation was far more complicated than just taking on typical swim lessons. In addition to hearing loss and anxiety, Max was also born with Down syndrome and subsequently diagnosed with verbal apraxia and ADHD. Learning to overcome fear, anxiety and other challenges in order to become a strong swimmer was really looking to be quite an uphill challenge. 

From our first touchpoint with the Y, we knew we were in a place that had very high skill levels to teach swimming. The Swim Director, Amy Basco spoke with us personally on the phone and brainstormed some ideas on how swim instruction could look for Max. We began in the Pollywog class to give Max peer models and the support and encouragement of peers in the water. We supplemented group instruction with private lessons to give Max the extra practice that he needed and the one on one instruction for good fundamental skills. We worked with this model for a period of time, but it became clear that Max was struggling in group instruction. It was too distracting and he really needed more instruction than many of the other students. We migrated to private lessons twice a week. It was a super long journey. Not only did Max need loads of time to develop correct motor planning, he also needed time to exhaust his behaviors and resistance. Swimming was not intuitive or natural for him. Frequently, he resisted and pushed back. So many times, we would leave the Y and I would say to myself, he’s just not ready. We should stop and try again in another year. 

Cue Miss Ashley! Miss Ashley had been teaching and observing Max on and off for over a year. She saw his potential and she saw his struggles. She was willing to take on Max and work with him personally because she knew he could do it. She would continually encourage me and say “Don’t give up Mom! He’s going to get it. We are going to have a breakthrough!” She was undaunted by his spicy personality and truly meshed with his psyche. I fully believe that when Max didn’t have confidence in himself that he trusted Ashley so much she imparted confidence in him. When he was weak, she carried him on her back. He sensed her positive attitude and began to apply himself in new ways. For the past 18 months, Max and Ashley have been in the pool twice a week practicing all his strokes. 

With new skills building, Max then decided he wanted to try for his Swimming and Lifesaving Merit Badges. He has been a lifelong scout and these two merit badges and Eagle required. Max was motivated and worked so hard. Ashley coached and refined his skills. In the summer of 2018, Max passed his Boy Scouts of America Swim test which is the first requirement of the Swimming Merit Badge. From that point on, there was no stopping the two of them. Max’s endurance kicked in and he began swimming longer distances. Ashley worked one on one with Max to complete all but one requirement of the Swimming Merit Badge. She also prepared him for skills that he would need for the Lifesaving Merit Badge. 

This past June 2019, Max attended BSA Summer Camp in Peninsula, Ohio. He registered for the two merit badges along with his typical peers. Day by day, Max completed the last requirement of the Swimming Merit Badge and he completed ALL of the requirements for the Lifesaving Merit Badge. It was a success by design. Ashley had prepared Max all the way for the challenges he would face and the skilled staff at Manatoc was outstanding. Max is so proud to have completed both merit badges and even more importantly, he is a strong confident swimmer.  Thank you, Ashley and all at the YMCA for helping Max achieve this lifelong goal. He is a happy swimmer and we are very grateful parents.