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Sensory Enhanced Aquatics (formerly Sensory Supported Swimming)

Swimming can be a great physical outlet and life-saving skill for children with autism spectrum disorders.

In addition to promoting health, swimming reduces stereotypic behaviors and increases social behaviors of some children facing these challenges.

Sensory Enhanced Aquatics: teaching swimming and water safety to children with autism spectrum disorders

A swimming and water safety program for children ages 4 to 17 with autism spectrum disorders

Partnering with Autism Speaks, the KU Department of Occupational Therapy Education developed the Sensory Enhanced Aquatics program to teach swimming and water safety to children with autism spectrum disorders.

To promote successful learning, instructors combine evidence-based teaching methods with sensory strategies matched to the unique needs of each child. Each session consists of eight, 30-minute lessons. Individual and small group lessons are available to meet the learning needs of children.

When does registration open for this program?

  • Summer session registration opens in mid-May
  • Fall session registration opens in late July
  • Spring session registration opens in early December

For information about program costs, location, scheduling and more, contact

Swim Instructors and Volunteers

  • Sarah Holz
  • Rachel Mahon
  • Colby Neussen
  • Kayla Hamner
  • Mia Murphy
  • Stephanie Munson
  • Braden Larkey
  • Lesan Peters
  • Emily Ferrell
  • Kristina Thompson
  • Kaytlyn Gooderl
  • Emily Wolf
  • Sydney Mulholland
  • Payton Nowlin
  • Kelli Stallbaumer
  • Miranda Pierce
  • Louis Brunetti
  • Sam Kopp
  • Chaz Trujillo
  • Alex Gradisher

Above: Through a grant, the KU Department of Occupational Therapy Education has developed a program that teaches children with autism how to swim. Watch video


  • Lisa Mische Lawson, Ph.D., CTRS, is director of the Sensory Enhanced Aquatics program and is a certified therapeutic recreation specialist. She has more than 20 years of experience in developing and managing recreation programs for individuals with disabilities.

    Mische Lawson is active in the swim community as a US Master's swimmer with KC Blazers Masters. She is US Master's Swimmer Adult Learn to Swim and Aquatic Therapy Rehab Institute certified.

  • Lauren Foster, OTD, OTR/L, clinical assistant professor, developed Sensory Enhanced Aquatics with Mische Lawson and continues to support the program remotely from Florida. Foster swam competitively from grade school through college and has coached all levels of swimmers.

  • Mady Priebe, OTR/L, and Kelsey Sponsel, OTR/L, are Sensory Enhanced Aquatics managers. Both started as swim instructors during their occupational therapy education and now train and provide on-deck support to Sensory Enhanced Aquatics instructors.

  • Kayla Hamner, graduate research assistant.

  • Natalie Kivlin, graduate teaching assistant.

  • Jaime Skultety, staff.

Interested in becoming a swim instructor? Please contact the program at

Selected Resources and Recent Publications

Navigating swim lessons for kids with and without disabilities
Authored by KU's Lauren Foster, this article offers the ins and outs of navigating swimming and swim lessons. While examples of children with disabilities are provided, these solutions apply to all children. Read

Mische Lawson, L. D'Adamo, J., Campbell, K., Hermreck, B., Holz, S., Moxley, J., Nance, K., Nolla, M., & Travis, A. (2019). A qualitative investigation of swimming experiences of children with autism spectrum disorders and their families. Clinical Medicine Insights: Pediatrics, 13, 1-9.

Mische Lawson, L. & Lisk, C. (2019). Feasibility Study of Perceived Exertion and Heart Rate of Children with ASD during Swimming. American Journal of Recreational Therapy, 18, (2), 29-37.

Mische Lawson, L. (2014, June).  Supporting Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders in Swimming and Recreation. American Therapeutic Recreation Association Webinar Series H: Autism I. Available for purcahse at

Mische Lawson, L., Foster, L., Strode, M., & Weller, C. (2014). Effects of a swim program for children with autism spectrum disorder on skills, interest, and participation in swimming. American Journal of Recreational Therapy, (3)2, 17-27.

Foster, L., Cox, J., & Mische-Lawson, L.; Englert Shutrump, S.; and Lutman, A. (2014), Staying in sight: Addressing children’s mental health and safety. OT Practice, 19(6), 8–13. (I)

Mische Lawson, L., Cox, J., & Foster, L. (2013). Swimming as a physical activity for children with autism spectrum disorders. Exceptional parent, 43(3).

Franken, L., Mische Lawson, L., & Santalucia, S. (2013, April). Aquatics: Promoting quality of life, health and wellness. OT Practice. 16-21.

Last modified: Feb 06, 2020

Make a Gift, red button
Hoping to reach more families, KU is looking to develop an instructor training program for Sensory Enhanced Aquatics. Help by donating online using the "Department of Occupational Therapy" designation. Please include "Sensory Enhanced Aquatics" in the special instructions field. Make a gift today!

Media coverage

KU's sensory supported swimming program serves its 100th student. Read more.

Swimming program for kids with autism wraps up third year at Fairway pool. Prairie Village Post

Feb. 2015 issue of "Streamlines" with Facebook post and discussion. U.S. Masters Swimming

Swimming Program Teaches Children with Autism Skills to Save Their Own Lives. Fox 4 Kansas City

KU OT students from work with children in sensory supported swim program at the Fairway City Swimming Pool. Facebook photo gallery

Fairway pool home to special swimming program for kids with autism spectrum disorders. Prairie Village Post