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Scuba Diving...Really?

 by: Teresa Rodgers Unnerstall

A while back I clicked my inbox to purge emails.  I spotted one from Nick’s Adapted Physical Education (APE) teacher. Subject: Scuba diving...What the? 

I laughed picturing Nick strapped down with all that equipment on his back and around his face.  I can’t even get him to leave a hat on for more than thirty seconds.  I started to hit delete but something made me pause.  I skimmed through the information and hit reply.  “I am not sure this is something that Nick could tolerate.  What do you think?”

His APE teacher, Meredith Jordan wrote back,  “I think we should give it a try! He really enjoys swimming and has no problem putting his head under water. He has also done an awesome job responding to directions given to him during class. It can’t hurt to try!”

Good point. What did we have to lose?  After all, he does love to swim!

I read through the information, watched an ABC news piece and checked out the website (

Scuba diving is the only activity in the world that has zero gravity, and the enjoyment of that zero gravity gives people with various physical disabilities a special freedom. 

Jim Elliot started the organization called Diveheart and has been working with divers with disabilities since 1997.  Elliot states that, “There’s a very, very short learning curve in scuba diving  for people with disabilities and without disabilities.”  ”Diveheart is a nonprofit whose mission is to build confidence and independence in children, adults and veterans with disabilities through the activity of scuba diving,” said Elliot. “We serve all disabilities. Kids with autism and Down syndrome, the vets coming back with traumatic brain injuries, amputations... it doesn’t matter. The only thing that keeps you from diving is pressure related illnesses, open wounds and people with seizures can’t go deep.”

Fast forward to a week or so later….  I opened up my laptop and found  photos of Nick scuba diving  in my inbox from Mrs. Jordan.  I was stunned!

Here’s what Mrs. Jordan wrote about Nick’s scuba experience: ”It’s pretty cool; I was getting emotional watching him. He did such an awesome job and I was so impressed with how relaxed he was during the entire process. He followed their instructions without any hesitation. I would definitely recommend trying this again possibly with the same organization. The Diveheart instructors used verbal instructions for Nick. They did show him how to open his mouth wide to get the breathing piece all the way in. They thoroughly explained to him everything they were doing. They did not use visual pictures at all. I had a peer partner in the water with him assisting the instructor. The instructor did have to hold the breathing piece in his mouth for a while until Nick realized he had to hold it. Once he got the hang of it he did not want to come up! He was SO relaxed the entire time. They had pretend fish/water toys in the water and Nick LOVED diving for them! Needless to say, he did not want to get out of the water. He was in for about an hour!”

Sometimes I have to remind myself not to set limits on Nick.  Mrs. Jordan was right, it can’t hurt to try. Thank you Mrs. Jordan and Diveheart! 

 I am very grateful that Nick was given this opportunity.  I would never have thought to try something like this.  Lesson learned!  sometimes you have to Think outside the box.


Teresa is the mother of two boys. Her youngest son, Nick is 19 years old and has special needs including Down syndrome, autism and verbal apraxia. She is a parent advocate, speaker and writer who is currently working on the memoir of raising her son, Nick.

For more stories about Nick's world check out Teresa's blog  by clicking HERE.


 Click here to learn more about DIVEHEART


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