Christmas 2022 was almost perfect for Caden Smith. Its one flaw – the fact that it fell on a Sunday. 

You see nobody – not even Kris Kringle – messes with Caden’s Sunday routine. Sundays are reserved for 30-minute adaptive swim lessons at the YMCA. End of story. 

Caden makes no secret of the fact he absolutely loves the water. It’s his body, though, that sometimes disagrees.

The 13-year-old from Andover, Kansas wasn’t supposed to live past the age of six. He has a severe life-threatening form of epilepsy known as Dravet Syndrome as well as autism, ataxia, a condition that weakens his core strength, and mobility challenges that make walking difficult and, at times, painful.

His mother, Tiah, admits that before his swim lessons started, the thought of handing him over to someone in the water was terrifying, especially since water can trigger his seizures.

Still, she couldn’t overlook the comprehensive therapeutic and physical benefits water could provide Caden:

  • For individuals with autism, water is a calming, sensory experience. 
  • Swimming strengthens major muscle groups. 
  • The weightlessness of water gives people with limited mobility the chance to move around freely without any danger of falling.

So terrified or not, Tiah knew how important it was for Caden to learn how to swim and to find someone who could get through to him and keep him safe. She and her husband made the decision several months ago to enroll Caden in adaptive swim lessons at the Dennis Schoenebeck North YMCA, bringing swim instructor Keith Braun into their lives. 

In the time since, the trust between Keith and Caden has grown considerably, with Keith’s specialized training and preparedness helping Caden when he has had seizures in the water.  

“The funny thing is that Keith’s name gets mentioned in our house far more times than I can tell you in a week. Caden loves Keith, and he loves his swim lessons,” Tiah said. “For Caden, he gets out of bed better, his entire day is better and he has something he looks forward to that is just his.”

Tiah may work as a Safety and Risk Manager at the Y, but when she takes Caden to the pool, she’s there as a mom. And this mom can’t say enough good things about the thoroughness of the personalized intake process, Keith’s skills and the entire North Y aquatics staff for “taking the time to have conversations that are so important for serving our family.”

The results have been remarkable, with Tiah overjoyed that Caden now has “his thing” that works medically and emotionally for him. 

In fact, Caden’s adaptive swim lessons have brought his entire family together. 

“In a lot of ways, Caden’s swim lessons give us hope for a normal feeling of life on Sundays,” Tiah said. “My oldest son loves to lift weights and work out. My daughter can go into the gym and play basketball. There’s not a lot of things we can do as a total family with the challenges we have, but we can all go to the Y.”

Adaptive swim lessons are part of the Greater Wichita YMCA’s commitment to be FOR All. Offered to individuals with physical, cognitive, developmental or neurological challenges, the classes are currently held at these Greater Wichita YMCA locations: Downtown, Hutchinson, Newton, North, Northwest, South and West. An intake process before one-on-one classes begin allows all adaptive swim lessons to be tailored to every person’s individual needs, abilities and goals, regardless of age. We invite you to learn more about our adaptive swim lessons and how they can benefit you or another person in your life by contacting the aquatics director at any of the locations listed above.