Special Fishies:Aquatic Freedom and Education

As of 2018 Special Fishies is an official non-profit bringing aquatic freedom and education to special fishies everywhere.

May every special child find a love for and
freedom in the water!

Special Fishies works to cultivate a love of water and an open learning environment for special needs children. The process of learning to swim and water exercise can be a great addition to any therapy they may be receiving on land. Being in the pool is a fun, unconventional place to work on therapy goals. For some kids, it’s the first place they learn to stand without help.

Using buoyancy in the pool, the body is unweighted, which makes movements and activities seem easier to perform. Aquatic therapy can help children with Autism to improve their concentration and attention span. The therapy focuses on play­ based functional movement, facilitating neurodevelopment growth and improving range of motion, improves body awareness, while also helping the children to have fun. A one­ on one session can help children with autism when it comes to impulse control, ability to follow instructions and frustration tolerance. A pool has properties that allow the body to work differently than it can on land.

Additional benefits of being in the water include decrease in spasticity, natural resistance to movement, and increased motivation for kids. It is also a great place to work on balance skills and assist with functional gains on land and the pool provides a lot of sensory input.

Definitions and descriptions of some of the Special Needs we can help. As a very respected pediatrician stated there is not a disorder a child could have in which swimming wouldn’t be beneficial.

Aqua Freedom and Strengthening:

Autism (ASD)

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and autism are both general terms for a group of complex disorders of brain development. These disorders are characterized, in varying degrees, by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors.

With the May 2013 publication of the DSM-5 diagnostic manual, all autism disorders were merged into one umbrella diagnosis of ASD. Previously, they were recognized as distinct subtypes, including autistic disorder, childhood disintegrative disorder, pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS) and Asperger syndrome.

ASD can be associated with intellectual disability, difficulties in motor coordination and attention and physical health issues such as sleep and gastrointestinal disturbances. Some persons with ASD excel in visual skills, music, math and art.

Autism appears to have its roots in very early brain development. However, the most obvious signs of autism and symptoms of autism tend to emerge between 2 and 3 years of age.


Inability to sustain attention over time with resulting incomplete work.

Acting without thinking and having difficulty delaying gratification.

Inability to regulate or modulate activity to fit the demands of the situation.

Being physically restless and having nonproductive activity.

Variable behavior from task to task or day to day, implying laziness or having manipulative behavior.

Cerebral Palsy

The term cerebral palsy refers to any one of a number of neurological disorders that appear in infancy or early childhood and permanently affect body movement and muscle coordination but don’t worsen over time. Even though cerebral palsy affects muscle movement, it isn’t caused by problems in the muscles or nerves.  It is caused by abnormalities in parts of the brain that control muscle movements.

The majority of children with cerebral palsy are born with it, although it may not be detected until months or years later. The early signs of cerebral palsy usually appear before a child reaches 3 years of age.  The most common are a lack of muscle coordination when performing voluntary movements (ataxia); stiff or tight muscles and exaggerated reflexes (spasticity); walking with one foot or leg dragging; walking on the toes, a crouched gait, or a “scissored” gait; and muscle tone that is either too stiff or too floppy.

Downs Syndrome

Down syndrome is a genetic condition in which an extra chromosome appears, instead of the usual 23 pairs. The extra genetic material affects how a person develops and causes physical characteristics such as low muscle tone, an upward slant to the eyes, and a flat facial profile. Most children with Down syndrome also have mild to moderate mental retardation, according to the National Down Syndrome Society.

High Need

Intense babies become intense toddlers, characterized by one word — “driven.” They seem in high gear all the time. Their drive to explore and experiment with everything in reach leaves no household item safe. Some high need toddlers maneuver around the house carefully, but most do not. These babies run headlong toward a desired object, seemingly oblivious of everything in their path.

The same drive that gets these toddlers into trouble also leads them to a level of creativity toward which other children may not venture. Our job is to help them drive more carefully and on roads that they can handle.

Hyperactive: This feature of high need babies, and its cousin hypertonic, are directly related to the quality of intensity. Hypertonic refers to muscles that are frequently tensed and ready to go, tight and waiting to explode into action. The muscles and mind of high need children are seldom relaxed or still.

Along with their unpredictability, these children show extremes of mood swings. When happy, they are a joy to be around; they are master charmers and people pleasers. When angry, they let everyone around them feel the heat. These children are super sensitive.

SMA (spinal muscular atrophy)

SMA (spinal muscular atrophy) is a disease that robs people of physical strength by affecting the motor nerve cells in the spinal cord, taking away the ability to walk, eat, or breathe.

There are four primary types of SMA—I, II, III, and IV—based on age of onset and highest physical milestone achieved.

Individuals with SMA have difficulty performing the basic functions of life, like breathing and swallowing. However, SMA does not affect a person’s ability to think, learn, and build relationships with others!

Though there is currently no approved treatment for SMA, we know what causes SMA and what we need to do to develop effective therapies. We will strengthen our children’s bodies, extend life, and eventually lead to a cure. Swimming is one of these therapies!

Spirited (similar to high needs): Intense

Some spirited children are loud and dramatic, while others are quiet and observant. Whether their intensity is channeled outward or inward, their reactions are always powerful. Tantrums can be expected, with the frequency and length depending on your child’s level of intensity.


Some spirited children have a difficult time getting on a regular schedule.  As babies, they will often need to freed frequently and have odd sleeping patterns. Because of this, they do not thrive well on a rigid schedule and may take a long time getting into a consistent routine.


A small percentage of spirited kids tend to be very serious and analytical. These children tend to be perfectionist and have a difficult time finding enjoyment in many things.


Little details are rarely missed by the spirited child. They may notice things that most people pass without a sideways glance. This can cause the child to be easily distracted and often accused of not listening.


Spirited children tend to be very goal-oriented. They do not easily give up. This can be a wonderful trait, but also a challenge, depending on the situation. Learning to guide this characteristic is extremely important for the child’s success.


Many spirited children are very sensitive. Some are easily over-stimulated and overwhelmed in crowds, others seem to have a hyper-sensitivity to sounds, smells, textures and light. Most are very aware of emotions, which can cause them to be very compassionate individuals. This will also allow them to absorb and reflect the emotions that others are feeling.

Uncomfortable with Change

Most spirited children don’t adapt well to changes. They usually need outside help from a trusted someone with transitions. Many will suffer from separation anxiety, especially when they are young. (This is how they get labeled “clingy” as a baby or toddler.)

While all children have some of these characteristics, a spirited child will display most, if not all of them.

Sensory Processing Disorder (Sensory Integration Dysfunction)

Sensory processing (sometimes called “sensory integration” or SI) is a term that refers to the way the nervous system receives messages from the senses and turns them into appropriate motor and behavioral responses. Whether you are biting into a hamburger, riding a bicycle, or reading a book, your successful completion of the activity requires processing sensation or “sensory integration.”

Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD, formerly known as “sensory integration dysfunction”) is a condition that exists when sensory signals don’t get organized into appropriate responses. Children with Sensory Processing Disorder often have problems with motor skills and other abilities needed for school success and childhood accomplishments. As a result, they often become socially isolated and suffer from low self-esteem and other social/emotional issues.

These difficulties put children with SPD at high risk for many emotional, social, and educational problems, including the inability to make friends or be a part of a group, poor self-concept, academic failure, and being labeled clumsy, uncooperative, belligerent, disruptive, or “out of control.” Anxiety, depression, aggression, or other behavior problems can follow.

Helping a fishie feel free

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Help us prepare for scholarships for 2019 Spring and Summer camps. We also need to fund scholarships for swim lessons all around the US and educational programs for aquatics centers throughout Orange County! We are dreaming big, with hopes for an eventual Freedom Center for all with special needs to go to receive care and fun! Please donate today, help us save lives and bring joy and safety to everyone.


Ongoing ways to help: Shop Amazon through this link and Community Autism Now, the Non-Profit we work with, will receive .5% of every dollar you spend on Amazon. https://smile.amazon.com/ch/45-4557018