MELISSA Corby believes swimming is an essential skill for all ages — but for her special needs students at Mary Brooksbank School in Rosemeadow, she describes it as a form of "freedom".
Mrs Corby, of Menangle, was awarded this year's NSW Austswim award for excellence.
She teaches more than 50 students with special needs twice a week at the school.
"I do get more satisfaction from teaching disabled students because they can't play a team sport, for them, being in the pool is freedom," she said. "At first it's very challenging for autistic children but once they learn the skill they're amazing."
She said it was rewarding to see children with disabilities learning to swim because it was a skill everybody needed. She has been the school's swimming teacher for almost seven years.
Teachers at the school have started working with Mrs Corby to design individual swimming programs for students. Principal Peter Skinner said: "We're lucky to have her. She's very thorough, she's a very engaging person, she's flexible and adaptable."