Lessons offered free of charge through the For Scout Foundation
Providing free swim lessons for children with autism and extreme water sensory issues is a dream come true for Katie Cantrell, creator of the new Sensory Cove swim program at the St. Charles Park District.
Soon to begin its second session Sunday, July 14 at Otter Cove Aquatic Park, Sensory Cove offers one-on-one instruction with specially trained lifeguards, for children who would not otherwise benefit from a group swim class held during regular swim hours. Each lesson meets for four weeks on Sunday mornings for 30 minutes, before the park opens. Registrants must be in grades K-6.
The idea for Sensory Cove began last summer after Cantrell, an Otter Cove swim team coach, lifeguard and instructor, worked with an autistic boy who had extreme water sensory issues. At first he wouldn’t even dip his toes in the water but after much nurturing and care, Cantrell said by the end of the summer, the boy became more comfortable in the water.
“I got this little boy to dunk his head and blow bubbles in the pool with me,” said Cantrell, a 2019 St. Charles North High School graduate. “His mom cried tears of joy, and I knew then that there was a greater need for this type of programming.”
She worked with Park District staff to make this dream a reality and also secured funding to offer the lessons at no charge, because Sensory Cove is two-fold for Cantrell. Not only does it fulfill a need in the community, it is also honors her sister, Scout Cantrell, who passed away in 2014 at the age of 9 from complications from an asthma attack.
Like her big sister, Scout was a competitive swimmer and passionate about the sport. Through the For Scout Foundation, of which Katie is a director, swim lessons are already offered free to children in need of financial assistance. Providing Sensory Cove lessons at no charge is an extension of this mission and carries on Scout’s motto, “to make the world a little bit better place,” Cantrell said.
When Cantrell presented her idea of Sensory Cove to staff, 12 lifeguards immediately signed up for the training, filling every spot. Thanks to Fox Valley Special Recreation and St. Charles Aquatics, lifeguards have been trained in technique and skills in working with children on the spectrum in the water.
Cantrell also conducted her own research when developing the program, including interviewing families with autistic children to learn what tools and techniques worked well. Along the way she discovered the support kick boards Sensory Cove swimmers use during lessons.
“It’s an awesome opportunity for families,” said Alex Weidner, Otter Cove Supervisor. “It gives them hope that their children will have the opportunity to feel comfortable and safe in the water, and also grows their community of families in similar situations.”
Cantrell said of the first Sensory Cove swim lesson: “To see every single child in the water and engaging with their instructors was just wonderful. Seeing it all come together made my heart full that these children were flourishing in Sensory Cove.”
She said it’s been her journey in life to carry on Scout’s legacy. “Projects like Sensory Cove are most definitely making the world a little bit better place, and I hope she is smiling in Heaven. I think she is, especially on Sunday mornings at Sensory Cove.”
For more information about Sensory Cove, contact Alex Weidner at 630-513-4391 or to register, visit www.stcparks.org.
For more information about the For Scout Foundation, visit www.communityfoundationfrv.org/profile/for-scout-foundation