kid swimming

Dr. Kelle Murphy, Assistant Professor in the College of Education Department of Kinesiology and Rehabilitation Science (KRS), is piloting a swim program for adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). In collaboration with the Hawai‛i Autism Foundation, KRS students began teaching swimming skills and safety twice a week during the 2017 Fall Semester as part of a 10-week laboratory section of the KRS 443 Diversity and Disability course.

“The response from parents and students has been extremely positive,” Murphy said. “Several mothers said that our KRS students were able to get their children to do more in the water than they have seen. It is really amazing to see how their bodies calm down after about 20 minutes of working with them in the pool.”

Drowning is cited as the leading cause of death among individuals with ASD, according to the National Autism Association, because many children with ASD wander and are non-communicative. Given its island setting, Hawai‛i’s statistics for these accidental drownings could surpass the national average.

For this pilot group, there are five KRS students working with seven adolescents at the Laniākea YWCA. Program goals include to expand and increase the number of adolescents with ASD who learn water safety, to create awareness and fill a vital gap in the community, and to provide unique training opportunities for KRS students.

COE Center on Disability Studies Associate Director JoAnn Yuen said, “This is a promising practice and heartwarming example of how ‘the COE is more than you know.’ Kelle has observed swimming as one way to support children with autism and wanted to do more – water appears to have a meditating effect on autistic behaviors and gives parents hope!”

For more information or to sign up, please contact Dr. Kelle Murphy at

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