Over the past several years, Houghton College’s Adaptive Swimming program has engaged children with developmental disabilities such as Down syndrome, autism, Asperger’s syndrome and Muscular Dystrophy. In this program, college students teach swimming and help students build confidence.

Though the program was originally started to benefit the children, it is impacting adults in unexpected ways.

“Little did I realize that those benefiting the most were the parents and the instructors,” said Bryan Mastin, Houghton College aquatics director and adjunct professor of aquatics. “This has provided an opportunity for parents to network with other parents that have children with similar disabilities.”

Mastin has been involved with swimming instruction for more than 30 years with the past 18 years at Houghton. In 2012 he began teaching the Houghton aquatics courses, including Aquatics 230. “This [Aquatics 230] is a course that trains students to become certified American Red Cross Water Safety Instructors and Lifeguards,” commented Mastin.

A requirement of the Aquatics 230 course is that students teach classes to children in the community. “When I started teaching this course, I realized there was a need for some children with special needs in the community to learn to swim and for college students to gain experience working with children,” said Mastin.

“This has been a phenomenal opportunity for children like my son Michael to learn to swim,” commented Courtney Potter, mother of 10-year-old Michael Potter, a participant in the adaptive swimming program.

Michael Potter has been a part of the program for a few years, but Potter said this was the first year that her son’s participation has really “blossomed.” “It was wonderful to see him learn techniques, go under water and not be afraid of jumping off the side,” she said.

Along with the parents and children, the program has been impacting the student instructors as well. “The instructors have been pushed to move considerably outside of their comfort zones and work with children they typically would not have interactions with,” Mastin said.

“This is a much needed and appreciated program for all,” said Potter.