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Community Center offers life-saving skills to children with special needs

October 9, 2018—The Excelsior Springs Community Center recently embarked on a new mission to help others in the community feel involved by also teaching lifesaving skills for area children with special needs.

Bonnie Lapee, assistant director with KultureCity Kansas City, said her son became the first participant in the community center’s swimming lessons. Because drowning remains the number one cause of death for autistic children who wander, she said these adaptive swim lessons save lives. She said her family have been blessed for her son to be the first participant. She said she could not be more pleased with the outcome.

Elizabeth Bowman helps Garrett Lapee learn to kick during a swimming lesson. Each student’s lesson will be customized to their individual needs and learning styles. KIMBERELY BLACKBURN | Staff photos


“I knew given the chance he could succeed at anything, and the community center is helping that happen,” she said. “The staff had no or limited experience with special needs kids. Jesse Hall arranged training by Dr. Adams. The staff have embraced the challenge and are doing an amazing job!”

Lisa Adams, Ph.D, who specializes in working with children with autism,  works with the aquatics staff to customize each lesson to the child. She said many children with special needs have difficulty managing danger at times. She said although children on the autism spectrum tend to gravitate toward water, they often experience difficulties understanding the dangers associated with water.

In addition to learning potentially life-saving skills, children with special needs and their families often experience non-inclusion from their community, she said. This often comes from not fulling understanding about that lack of inclusion does for the individual … and for the community as a whole.

Adams said when one member of a community faces a lack of inclusion, they cannot share their gifts with their neighbors.

“When everyone is able to participate, it’s amazing what can happen in a community,” she said.

Staff surrounds Garrett Lapee as Lisa Adams, Ph.D. provides snacks during the lesson. Adams, who specializes in working with those on the autism spectrum, said she helps customize each lesson to the individualize student, determining what props and reinforcements can be useful in helping each child learn.


Adams said someone not being included in the community often comes as a result from a lack of familiarity with the child and their needs. Although many on the autism spectrum possess different strengths and challenges, Adams said some generalities emerge.

According to information from The Autism Society provided by Adams, “Some of the behaviors associated with autism include delayed learning of language; difficulty making eye contact or holding a conversation; difficulty with executive functioning, which relates to reasoning and planning; narrow, intense interests; poor motor skills’ and sensory sensitivities.”

Although some similarities exist, each one with autism faces a different set of challenges. Some may follow each of these known behaviors, some may only follow a few. The Autism Society also said others may follow a different set of behaviors.

About one percent of the world’s population has autism spectrum disorder. In the United States, experts estimate autism impacts one in every 59 births and more than 3.5 million Americans live with autism.

Elizabeth Bowman and Brenden Horned assist Garrett Lapee during his swimming lesson. Lisa Adams, Ph.D., who specializes in working with children on the autism spectrum said she hopes these lessons help include those with special needs into the community.


Each child’s swimming lesson will be customized to their own needs. Adams said she will consider many factors including the child’s needs and abilities, their sensory needs, their likes and desires and what props or reinforcers would be helpful to reinforce the lesson. She said the lessons will also adapt based on how the child’s day went.

Cassie Kinnard, aquatics supervisor, said they close the pool for the first participant because of his special needs. She said she believes swimming lessons provide lifesaving skills that she believes everyone should have access to.

“We have lots of bodies of water around here, not just pools, but lakes,” she said. “It takes very little watter for someone to drown.”

Kinnard said the aquatics staff teaches how to float on their front and back, breathing control and how to swim the length of the pool without assistance.

Brittanie Propes, operations manager said the community center does not want to turn anyone who needs swimming lessons away. She said the staff will work with families to cater lessons around each child with special needs. She said they offer private and semi-private lessons.

Recently, Mayor Pro Tem Sharon Powell and Joyce Green, along with the Laureate Alpha Sigma Chapter of Beta Sigma Phi made a special donation to expand the program. Propes said their donation will be used to help offer these lifesaving swim lessons to other children in the community.

For more information on how to obtain swim lessons for children with special needs, contact the community center at 816-656-2500.

By Kimberely Blackburn •

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One Response to Community Center offers life-saving skills to children with special needs

  1. Bonnie Lapee Reply

    October 9, 2018 at 7:52 pm

    Dear Standard/Kimberly Blackburn, The Excelsior Springs Community Center and City of Excelsior Springs:

    My son, Garrett Lapee, is the lucky participant of the adaptive swim lessons pilot program at the community center. So many people came together to make this possible. Each and everyone of them deserve thanks and recognition. I am a special needs mom. I advocate, that’s what we do. Advocating is planting seeds. It takes work, love and commitment to make any of those seed grow. Without those things, the seeds die. Jesse Hall is the hero of this story. He listened. He acted. He watered the seed! Like all good leaders, he gathered a group of good people to execute his plan. Dr. Lisa Adams, who is a true treasure and asset to our community. She trained the community center staff. The community center staff have blown me away with how they have embraced my son, inclusion, and this program! Jesse also reached out for help with funding, and as Excelsior Springs does when they know there is a need, they responded! Thank you Sharon Powell, Joyce Green, and Alpha Sigma Chapter of Beta Sigma Phi’s for your amazing donations. The donations are literally life changing. Jesse was the right person at the right time to make this happen, and I am so very grateful. You, the Standard, by informing and educating, have a huge piece in this as well. People are willing to help if they know. You article was so educational for our town and vital to informing parents and caregivers these services exist. I thank you all, from the bottom of my heart, for embracing inclusion, improving lives, and our community.

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