Swim Lessons at Jennersville YMCA Help Take Jesse Broadbent to New Heights

Jesse Broadbent, a 12-year-old with autism, has greatly benefited from swimming lessons at the Jennersville YMCA

Jesse Broadbent underwent a major change when he and his family moved from Landenberg to Cochranville last March. The move meant that he’d also have to leave his old swimming program and find a new one, which he did when his mom, Kristi, registered him at the Jennersville YMCA.

That wasn’t even close to the biggest adjustment he had to make, though. Jesse, who is 12 and has autism, always wore waterproof headphones in the water due to his heightened sensitivity to sound.

However, Missy Van Scoyk, Jesse’s swim teacher at the Jennersville YMCA, saw it a different way. She wanted Jesse to go without his headphones in order to better acclimate him to the sounds and to improve communication with him. Despite Jesse’s hesitancy about it, he agreed to remove his headphones.

“It was rough at first,” Jesse’s mother, Kristi, said. “Whenever you work with somebody new on anything, you have to learn them and they have to learn you. You have to have that connection.”

“It was quintessential to remove the headphones because we couldn’t afford any obstacles in the water,” Van Scoyk said. “I wanted him to hear me so we could communicate. He’s non-verbal, but we still had to communicate if he wanted to learn.”

Forging a Relationship

Between the departure of his headphones and not knowing Van Scoyk, Jesse kept his guard up throughout the first few swimming lessons, but eventually, twice-weekly lessons helped Van Scoyk slowly break through.

“Jesse came in and really didn’t know who I was,” Van Scoyk said. “We had no bond, he was a little unsure and he really wasn’t comfortable in the water. I spent some time picking up sign language to communicate with him and have him communicate back. There are now times when he’ll mouth words back to me.”

That, combined with effective communication with Kristi, has helped Jesse thrive in the pool. Kristi had originally signed Jesse up because she knew that autistic children are attracted to water, but that attraction can often be dangerous if they don’t know what to do in the water. Any child can drown without the basic knowledge of how to get around in the water, and Kristi wanted to ensure Jesse’s safety around it.

“First and foremost, I really wanted him to be able to make his way to safety when he’s in the pool,” Kristi said. “He was able to learn that from his original school, so Missy has shown him more advanced skills like floating on his back, treading water, and she has him swimming from one end to the other, and back to the other end and he can do it. The two of them have bonded really well and she’s just gotten so much progress and so many of his skills out of him.”

A Welcome Change

The results are impossible to deny. Jesse is at his happiest when he’s in the pool, often rocking a wide, ear-to-ear smile and making happy noises as he learns. He’s come a tremendous way in less than a year and his progress isn’t going to stop any time soon. He originally started just doing private lessons with Van Scoyk before also joining the Adaptive Programs at the Jennersville YMCA, a small-group session that allows Jesse to interact with other special needs children. That, too, has also had a monumental impact on him.

“The biggest challenge in the pool for Jesse was to float on his back independently and move,” Van Scoyk said. “Sometimes, kids with autism don’t like to lay on their backs because they feel a loss of control. They want to see where they’re going and where you are. They want that connection. He’s been able to learn so much. Kristi’s insight and ability to communicate with me means that I can communicate with him. I can teach a stroke and break it down, but I want to get to know him and build a relationship with him. He meets so many challenges and he’s an amazing young man. It’s a credit to his ability to be able to step out of his comfort zone and trust someone he didn’t know.”

Take a look around the Jennersville YMCA pool and there’s a good chance that you’ll see Jesse continuing his progress. It’s wild to think how far he’s come in less than a year, but it also shows other children with autism the power of the water and how swim lessons can change their lives.

“I tell every parent I meet about this program because if you’re going to invest time and money into your kid with special needs, swimming is the most important for safety,” Kristi said. “Most kids love swimming, so take something that they love and you can really start seeing the progress. He loves this, and you have to work off of things that they love.”


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