Michael Brunsvik jumped in the water when what his teacher had told him was to walk around the pool.
So Angela Lopez made him climb out and walk around like she'd asked.Most swimming teachers may let a small thing like that go and allow the almost 10-year-old to swim across the pool to his mother. But because he is autistic, Michael needs to follow directions and stay focused.
And Lopez's demand that he do that thrilled his mother.
Michael and about 30 other children with disabilities take part in an adapted swimming program offered by the Salt Lake County Parks and Recreation Department.
Michael is attending three classes a week where his love of the water has been joined with swimming strokes he struggled with in regular lessons. He and his twin brother, Christian, have taken lessons in their Salt Lake neighborhood since their parents adopted them at 5. But Michael had difficulty.
For the first time this year, his parents, Fred and Renate Brunsvik, chose to put Michael in a special summer program, specifically for children with a disability.
"We're thrilled," Renate Brunsvik said. "This is the best thing we've ever done."
Where Michael once had bent legs and floppy arms, he now pummels through the water. He jumps off the side of the pool over and over, swimming to Lopez each time. Lopez, a mother of two, has taught swimming for about a decade and enjoys seeing children who have limitations on land find freedom when they hit the water.
"First, we don't focus on what they can't do," Lopez said. "We focus on what they can do."
For Michael that means offering rewards - usually a jump off the diving board - for good behavior and allowing him to learn through repetition.
Salt Lake County is expanding its adaptive programs for children and adults. In addition to swimming lessons, the county offers people with disabilities summer camp, art, track and field, t-ball, indoor soccer, basketball and wheelchair sports.
Mindy Calderon, the therapeutic/adapted recreation program supervisor, said the goal of all the programs is not to win but to build self-esteem through recreation.
Because many parents drive their children from Utah, Weber and Davis counties to programs in Salt Lake, Calderon is trying to spread the message of adaptive programs to other areas.
Started in 1989, Salt Lake County's adapted recreation program served 14,160 people last year.
Calderon says people should have a choice in their activities so adaptive programs are offered for all ability levels.
The county also offers socialization classes for teens and adults with disabilities, an at-risk youth sports program and recreation pro-grams for those in substance abuse treatment facilities.