Special Needs Aquatics Program partnered - Saguaro Aquatics

Contact Us


Special Needs Aquatics Program

special needs aquatics program


Sonoran Dolphins offers swimming lesson scholarships for children with Autism. Scholarships provide up to 50% of the lesson fees (Registration Fees are not covered by scholarships) Scholarships are based on availability and do not require an application, only a diagnosis or EAP stating that your child has Autism. Scholarships are for 3 months. If all scholarships are currently used those that are ENROLLED and on SCHOLARSHIP WAIT LIST will have first priority when scholarships become available. If there is not a scholarship wait list, at the conclusion of a 3 month scholarship the student may remain on scholarship on a monthly basis.


  • PRAISE desired behaviors

  • ABA

  • Picture Schedules

  • Social Stories

  • Token Economy

The Autism Society of Southern Arizona has partnered with Saguaro Aquatics to provide Tucson families with swimming lessons specifically designed for children with special needs.Special needs aquatics program Adapted from Saguaro Aquatics’s swimming lesson curriculum, our collaborative effort has produced a unique water safety and swimming lesson curriculum that allows children with autism to learn and experience so much more than swimming. The water and learn to swim experience are the vehicle by which these special children learn playing and socialization skills.

Our staff are trained in adaptive aquatics. Using behavior AND sensory therapy we teach swimming safety skills and improve the overall quality of life for children with a variety of  unique challenges. After determining the child’s level the instructor will customize the curriculum for your child to achieve the goals of the class. The student’s current therapy providers are encouraged to participate in the curriculum development and goal planning. We consider ourselves a SUCCESS when our special needs aquatics program students are safe in and around the water AND if possible, assimilate into traditional group swimming lessons.


LOCATION:                   5302 E Pima St, 85712


REGISTRATION FEE:                $35/ year 

LESSON FEE:                           $30/lesson 



Below is an outline of the Sonoran Dolphins swimming lesson program. As you can see it is more than just swimming. We have provided great detail in the Self Determination and Following Routine Competencies to give you an idea of how the program works and the basis for designing lesson plans.

Sonoran Dolphins Curriculum


    1. Safety

    2. Self – Determination skills

      1. Advocate

        • Safe/unsafe scenarios

        • Ability to advocate for self

        • Expressing wants and needs

      1. Choices

        • Allow the opportunity to choose an activity

        • What to do first

      2. Empowerment

        • Water confidence

        • Natural Consequences

        • Receiving Feedback

        • Decision Making

           3. Self – Awareness

          4. Socialization

          5. Physiological benefits

          6. Following Routines

    1. Changing

    2. Utilizing the restroom

    3. Entering/Exiting pool

    4. Safety checklist

    5. Pool Rules

    6. Showering before/after lesson

    7. Cleaning up

Sample Lesson Plan


Swimmer will learn the expectations and rules of the facility

Facility Orientation (this could include parents)

Embedded Competencies: 1.2, 1.3, 6.1, 6.2, 6.3, 6.5, 6.6

Verbal cues:  “Here is the _____”, “This is where you___”

Items needed: pictures of items/places, first aid kit, rule poster, bathrooms, pool stairs

Teaching Procedure: Upon arrival, the instructor will provide a brief tour of the facility to the dolphins and their parents. This can be done utilizing a list of pictures that follows the order of the tour. During this tour the instructor will explain the function of each item/room (ex: here is the bathroom. This is where you can get dressed or go to the bathroom).

Equipment Orientation

Embedded Competencies: 1.3

Verbal cues:  “varies” just state the equipment while holding it and/or pointing to it

Items needed:  cheese board, island, kickboards, handrails, goggles

Teaching Procedure: While the dolphin is out of water, the instructor will hold up and/or walk to various different equipment. The instructor will explain the function of each item and how it is used.

Environmental Signs

Embedded Competencies: 1.2, 1.3, 1.4, 2.1, 4.1, 6.3, 6.4, 6.5

Verbal cues:  “point to the __ (state the sign)”  “what is this?”

Items needed: pictures of signs

List of signs:

  1. Exit sign

  2. Bathroom

  3. First aid

  4. Walking signs

Teaching Procedure: While the dolphin is out of water walk around the facility and present cue asking  about particular signs in the environment. If the dolphin knows what it is ask them what they do and how each facility part or item helps them.

Assessment Form

After enrollment our Sonoran Dolphins Program Director will contact you to complete the Participant Assessment Form with you and to answer any questions you might have.

Online Registration     

After enrolling our Instructors will assign a Level and develop a custom curriculum to meet your child’s needs and goals. You will receive monthly updates on your child’s progress specific to their goals. 


A minnow is a child experiencing the water for the first time. Typically the child has had minimal to no exposure to the water. At this level the child will be away from the parent perhaps for the first time while swimming special needs aquatics program. Water safety is the major component as a minnow while also learning the appropriate water behavior as a new swimmer. This level focuses on survival swimming and becoming a happy swimmer. At this level we are also teaching social skills to prepare them for future swim lessons and classroom settings.

Our seahorses are typically have a more comprehensive background with the water and/or class setting. At this level the child should be able to perform the core swim and social skills of a minnow. At this level the child is learning more about working with the other students in the class, learning more appropriate swimming behaviors, as well as building upon the water safety skills taught as a minnow. A new seahorse should be able to blow their bubbles, understand when it is okay to enter the water, take their turn, and submerge underwater with the help from the instructor. The student should be able to feel comfortable and trust their environment when starting as a seahorse. To graduate as a seahorse the child should be able to submerge and blow bubbles independently, have proper body position in the water both while still and while kicking. Seahorses also learn to raise their hand to speak, be able to ask questions and know good swimming behavior.

A Clown Fish are completely comfortable being in the water without being held. Typically a Clown Fish should have either experience in a class setting, previous exposure to the water, or high communication skills. As a new clownfish they should have all the core swimming and social skills taught at the seahorse level. This level focuses not only on water safety skills but also the beginning stages of swimming strokes. By the time the swimmer graduates as a seahorse they will be able to show basic forward movement with their arms and kicks, show proper body position in the water while also integrating survival swimming skills. A Clown Fish should have more developed motor skills and coordination. At this level a seahorse will also learn about communication in a class and with adults and friends.

A Tang Fish swimmer should have previous exposure to the water, experience in a class or classroom setting and be able to effectively communicate at some level (verbally, through pictures, writing, or sign language etc.). The beginner Tang Fish should have the skills to indicate forward movement while in the water with proper body position. During this level the swimmer will learn to move both on top of the water and under the water. The swimmer will develop their coordination with their arms, kicks, and breathing with further distances. The swimmer will also be able to move below the water independently. At this level safety skills are still emphasized, but more technique is taught with regards to the swimming stroke. Tang Fishes are also learning about proper play behavior, social norms, and group behavior for swim lessons but also skills for the classroom.

<https://youtu.be/bI1yxwv4e4w” width=”560″ height=”315″ frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen=”allowfullscreen”>