Belfast swimming instructor helping children with additional needs gain confidence in the pool

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Babies and young children with medical conditions and special needs are benefiting thanks to a new swimming class at a hydrotherapy pool in Belfast.

The programme was launched by Lee-Anne Daly earlier this year at the Crescent Vitality Health and Recovery facility in the Clonard Crescent area of the city.

Lee-Anne, who established her coaching business Aquababes in September 2008, has helped around 10,000 children gain confidence in the water over this time and is now using the experience she has amassed to also help children with a range of needs.

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Detailing what inspired her to set up the business, she said: “My son was born in 2007 and having lived his first year in England, we attended swimming classes there.

Lee-Anne Daly. (Pic: Khara Pringle Photography).Lee-Anne Daly. (Pic: Khara Pringle Photography).
Lee-Anne Daly. (Pic: Khara Pringle Photography).

"On my return home to Belfast, I couldn’t find any similar provision in my area and there came the intense plunge into training and building the Aquababes NI name.

"My first session was held in the pool at what is now the Clayton Hotel on Ormeau Avenue. I secured more pool time in Lagan Valley LeisurePlex and it grew from there and I’m now delivering lessons in Dungannon, Cookstown, Magherafelt, Newtownards and Belfast. Aquababes NI Ltd was incorporated in November 2013.”

Lee-Anne has helped vulnerable adults and children with medical conditions such as Down's syndrome and autism learn to swim over the past 15 years, but in January, after securing pool time in Crescent Vitality Health and Recovery, she was able to provide a dedicated service for people with additional needs.

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She said: "Securing pool time at this fantastic venue has meant I can now offer small, personal group sessions to babies with additional needs. I’m currently teaching a child with cerebral palsy, two babies with hypotonic issues and muscle tone difficulties and an infant who underwent surgery after being born with Craniosynostosis.

"The swimming benefits these children greatly, from muscle tone to coordination, balance and confidence in their own abilities and the fantastic bonding time spent with parent and baby.

"The reaction from parents when they see the results from bringing their baby swimming is such a rewarding job. I’m truly passionate about it and when the parents report the glowing feedback from their own doctors at how baby has improved again makes us all very happy.”

Although working across Northern Ireland, Lee-Anne has helped with the swimming tuition of children across the UK and Europe thanks to a jetsuit she designed.

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She added: “I came to realise that toddlers aged two and over just want to do what they want to do, taking little instruction and beginning to feel their own autonomy.

"This is when the inspiration for the Orby Jetsuit evolved. It’s an adjustable neoprene suit that inflates and deflates as a child's ability improves. Up until then we were still using the same swimming aids from the 1970s.

"InvestNI backed me with innovation vouchers, a place on the propel programme and proof of concept programmes and now we see the use of the Orby Jetsuit achieving incredible results for toddlers and children, building muscle and confidence. The safety aspect of the suit is also great. Orby Swim Ltd was incorporated in 2015. My first stock delivery arrived in July 2017 and the range is now used in swim schools around the UK and Europe.”

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