2018 Ambassador of the Week 3: ESCNJ

April 21, 2018

2018 Ambassador of the Week: April 15 to April 21

Educational Services Commission of New Jersey  |  Monroe, NJ

Swimmers at ESCNJ event

Educational Services Commission of New Jersey has been involved with Autism New Jersey and its mission for decades and has been holding the Autism Awareness Swim & Play fundraiser for six years. The commission provides intensive ABA services in four schools for students with autism and their families from more than 50 school districts. It is also a resource to many local school districts seeking to improve their in-district programs for students with autism by state-of-the-art methods in Applied Behavior Analysis.

Who are the individuals from ESCNJ who help make the Swim & Play fundraiser happen?

Dr. Erik Solberg, principal of the Academy Learning Center, brought this idea to the ESCNJ School Superintendent, Mark Finkelstein, who has enthusiastically brought the efforts of the full school district, year after year, to making it successful.

Katelyn Dauphinee, ESCNJ Aquatics Center Director, outdoes herself year after year in expanding the organization, outreach, and support for the event with more than 30 volunteers in addition to the full aquatics staff. As in past years, the event this year will offer many activities in addition to the Swim-a-Thon, where students with autism, along with their friends, siblings, and family members can have a great time.

Was it the original idea for the event to also be a “family-friendly fun time,” or did it gradually transition to this?

The event began six years ago with just a Swim-a-Thon but then expanded every year. In addition to the professional lap pool, the Aquatics Center has an activity pool and a lazy river for children and adults of all ages. A wheelchair lift is available for the lap pool as well as plastic wheelchairs that wheel right into the activity pool. The additional events this year will also include a bounce house, craft area, and game area.

What kind of backgrounds do the participants have?

Teachers and therapists from the ESCNJ schools actively support this event in large numbers. Serious swimmers can get pledges for the number of laps that they swim, and we have counters at each lane to help them keep track. Individuals with autism, their families and friends make up the rest of the participants. The Aquatics Center can help everyone have a great time supporting a great cause.

How does swimming help participants with autism?

The fun and joy of swimming can be a lifelong skill for our students that opens up community recreation facilities to them. It is a wonderful form of exercise and promotes a sense of independence. Also, from a safety perspective, it teaches good habits of water safety.

How are you helping to raise autism awareness?

We do it by getting publicity, by highlighting educational methods that are tremendously successful and cost-effective, by welcoming everyone into our space, and by celebrating individuals with special needs and their potential for growth.

Who is your inspiration?

Our students with autism…
whose individual drive and determination to be successful — in spite of having disabilities that severely impact their communication and social skills — is remarkable. They need our support and guidance but they also give back so much to each of us.

And to our families …
who celebrate each success, whether small or large, of their sons and daughters. These families don’t take anything for granted and are there – day in and day out – making each day the best it can be.

What do you see for the future of the Swim and Play?

We plan to continue to grow and expand the event. It has done that every year so far, sometimes doubling in size from one year to the next. It gets the word out that individuals with autism are out there. These individuals are in need of understanding and acceptance in our communities and our workplaces.

What is your wish for the future in terms of autism awareness and acceptance?

That everyone understands that individuals with special needs can make a contribution to their families, their communities, and to society. That, with the right type of supports and acceptance, individuals with special needs can flourish and reach their potential. This enriches all of us.