Eleven-year-old Larne girl Charlotte Smith enjoys swimming so much that she was determined to help others to take the plunge.
So she cut off her long hair to raise money for Autism Initiatives NI.
Now, a year later, she has collected enough for the charity to forge a partnership with Belfast -based Swimming Buddies to offer lessons to children on the autism spectrum.
In a world of noise that often overwhelms them, autistic children tend to be drawn to water for its relaxing sensory qualities and while this can be extremely calming and beneficial, it can put those who cannot swim at risk.
Grainne Close, national director of Autism Initiatives NI explained: “Back in 2015, we conducted a ‘Needs & Wants’ survey with over 229 service users and their families. Swimming lessons were highlighted as the most wanted activity.
“It has taken us almost two years to find the right partner who we feel understands the needs of people with autism.
“Most of the families we support could not afford the full cost of £16 per half hour for swimming lessons. As a charity we wanted to make the swimming lessons more affordable and accessible.
“By fundraising we can reduce the cost by 50 per cent.We’re delighted that Charlotte has kick started our fundraising efforts by raising over £500 for the swimming lessons.”
Charlotte, who has been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome said: “I chose Autism Initiatives NI because they were the ones who taught me how to ride my bike last summer.
“I am very grateful because it was a whole new experience for me and I never thought I would be able to ride a bike like my friends did.”
“I am so glad that Autism Initiatives NI will be launching the swimming programme with the money I raised because it makes me feel very proud of myself and because I love swimming and it has helped me conquer my fears. Now I can even jump into the deep end, even though I was really frightened at the start!”
Sarah Jane Woods, owner of Swimming Buddies said: “We are delighted to be working in partnership with Autism Initiatives.
“Swimming Buddies aims to help all our buddies not only to stay safe in the water, but also to reach their full swimming potential. “
Classes can be booked via the following sites: www.aini.sports-booker.com and more information can be found on www.swimmingbuddies.co.uk