Special needs students from Great Heights Academy swim with dolphins near Marathon

NEAR MARATHON, Fla. (WSVN) — A group of students with special needs from Great Heights Academy in Miami got to experience a special swim with dolphins near Marathon.

The students spent an exciting day in the water at the Dolphin Research Center thanks to the generosity of Interval International, Wednesday.

From a handshake to a quick swim, or even painting with the help of their finned friends, the interaction with the dolphins was certainly a unique experience for the students.

“This has been life changing. It’s just an incredible experience,” said Marta Noa, mother of student Sophia.

Noa said she saw a different side of her daughter during the day’s fun activities.

“She has difficulty communicating,” said Noa, “and today, I’ve seen her be more vocal, talking more, engaging.”

Khia Lopez, founder of the academy, said the experience was beneficial for all of the students.

“You see a different child in the classroom than what we see outside,” said Lopez, “so this day has brought out not just smiles and happiness, but it’s brought kids out of their comfort level, their sensory needs.”

Whether it’s kids with special needs or a veteran suffering from PTSD, experiences like these are often therapeutic and can help people overcome daily challenges.

“I’m loving this experience. I’m loving the exposure. The more exposure we can give to our kids, the better,” said Lopez. “You never know what’s gonna come out of these experiences.”

The trainers at the research center said the mammals have a sense of who’s coming into the water.

“They just seem to click, and they get into a moment and kind of zen,” said Special Needs Coordinator Kyrstyn Ransom. “They just want to succeed. Actually, it’s kind of like dogs. They want to please. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t have stuck around, especially with 36 kids in the water.”

Ransom said the enabling experience is important for some who are often limited by their disability.

“To be able to just let go and the dolphins just take the lead. I think that really takes weight off of them,” said Ransom. “‘Hey, I did that. I can do that.’ To have all these people telling them, ‘You can do that,’ instead of the no’s that they usually hear.”

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