Age: 4 to 12 years old

Location: Eileen Daily Community Swimming Pool

Availability: Wednesday between 1:00 – 4:00 pm


30- minute session



45-minute session




Swimming is a vital skill, yet not every child thrives in conventional swimming lessons. For those who grapple with anxiety and different learning needs, a different approach is needed. This is where Sara steps in with her therapeutic swimming service.

Sara’s Unique Approach

Sara prioritizes relationship-building before skill-building. Her lessons are far from one-size-fits-all.  They are tailored to meet the unique needs and pace of each learner. For the curious or easily distracted, Sara approaches them by building peer rapport and novel play offerings.  For the anxious and timid, she prioritizes on child’s autonomy, preferences, and processing needs.  She would patiently sit with them without explicit or implicit demand to swim and engage in child-led play and exploration.

Drawing from her own experiences as a child who was initially afraid of swimming, and later finding her passion for it in a more controlled environment, Sara connects with neurodivergent children on a deeper level. As an autistic individual, she brings a unique perspective to relating with neurodivergent children, empathizing with their challenges and strengths.

“The Shift”

The magic in Sara’s method is what she calls “the shift.” It’s that pivotal moment when a child moves from apprehension to trust. This shift doesn’t follow a strict timeline; it may take ten sessions or more, but once it occurs, the child becomes receptive to Sara’s “offering” and modelling.

Role of Parents

Many swimming programs and private instructors may require children to participate independently from their parents because they assume the parents’ presence would reduce the child’s capacity to learn and work hard.  Because Sara prioritizes relationship safety and the therapeutic experience of being in the water over the swimming curriculum, Sara believes that anxious children should not be forcefully separated from attached persons, especially in an environment where they do not feel safe.  Many neurodivergent children rely on their parents for co-regulation and communication.  Children who are visual learners or have a strong drive for autonomy may also benefit from observing Sara “teaching the parent” first.

Logistics and Availability

Sara conducts her sessions in public pools during their quieter hours, creating a less overwhelming environment for her students. She schedules sessions primarily during school hours on Mondays, avoiding busy times and holidays. Currently, Sara has openings for children who are overly anxious or fearful, with more availability coming in mid January.

Her service can be claimed as behavioural intervention under AFU or swimming lesson with distribute learning.

Sara’s background:

Sara is a trained lifeguard and has 10 years of experience providing individualized swimming lessons for children in Ontario. It wasn’t until recently when she realized that majority of those children were neurodivergent.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Q: Can you teach my children the proper strokes and swimming techniques?

If the child expressed interest in these learning goals, yes.  If the child is not interested or understands “the point”, Sara will not force the child to learn this.

Q: As a parent, I can teach my children these basic swimming techniques, why do we need Sara for this?

Neurotypical children can access any swimming program even if their parents can teach the same skills. Cherish Clinic approaches children with learning differences from the social model of disability. We believe every child should be able to access and experience the same cultural milestones as their peers and parents should be able to enroll their neurodivergent children to swimming programs for the similar reasons as any other parents.  Sara’s service is considered therapeutic because the real goal of the session is to experience the relationship of trust and rapport outside the family unit and experience joy and competence in the different arenas of the child’s world.

Q: The swimming session is too short.

Transition can be a challenging and aversive experience for children.  We recommend the parent get in the pool (or by the pool splashing water with their legs) with their children first and get comfortable with the environment before Sara “visits” them. Then after the session, continue to enjoy the facility in ways that is nourishing for the child.  We recognize the sensitive or defensive nervous system, especially in those with prior aversive experience with swimming, may be overwhelmed with more. The curious and energetic children would likely utilize their short time with Sara better if they have first satisfied their curiosity and novelty the pool has to offer.  However, parents are the expert of their children, so these are just uninformed recommendations from the less-expert us.

Q: It doesn’t look like Sara is teaching my kid swimming. It just looks like they are playing and hanging out.

Great! This means Sara is doing it right.  If it looks like a traditional swimming lesson, then we might be doing it wrong.  Also therapeutic swimming is more akin to counselling in a swimming pool than swimming instructions.

Q: What does Sara do exactly to build trust?

Well, there is no formula, but here is an example of the differences between counselling and teaching swimming:  some well-intended instructors may hold the floating device slightly further than what the child has initially requested in the hope of stretching the child’s capacity and growing edge just a little bit.  For sensitive children, this can be experienced as an erosion of trust. In the realm of counselling work, this would be considered unethical or a breach of informed consent that may result in disciplinary action by the licensing board.