Teen With Disability Finds Support and Sense of Belonging at the Y

Daniel Allen Wondaferew, 18, was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) at age 2 years and 8 months. During his developmental stages, he had difficulty with expressive language, fine motor skill development, social skills and making eye contact with others.

With prompt interventions through the DeKalb County and Gwinnett County school systems and a great deal of support from his parents, Daniel and Michelle Wondaferew, family members, teachers, friends and swim coaches, Daniel made significant improvements in his development and has become a resilient and passionate young man, and a stellar competitive athlete.

Daniel’s father, Daniel Wondaferew, says the YMCA has had a profound impact on Daniel’s development. 

“Daniel’s swimming experience at the Y has made him believe all things are possible when placed in a healthy, conducive environment and a comforting support group,” he says. “Daniel is more confident, mindful, caring and socially aware because of his exposure to different ethnic, gender and age groups at the Y.”  

Daniel’s dad also credits the coaches at the Y for their patience and training in dealing with the challenge of individuals with ASD. 

“The J.M. Tull-Gwinnett Family YMCA has treated Daniel like family, and Coach Emily Holton has been very encouraging and inspiring to Daniel from school age through current day.”

He says the Y has afforded his son “comfort, acceptance and security in a family-like environment where typical and non-typical kids and individuals can learn and grow from one another’s strengths, and bond as one.”

Daniel has also enhanced his attention span and communication skills and has become a great student and incredible swimmer. Daniel says swimming helps to ease his mind and body.

“When I’m in the water, I feel at ease. It helps me relax and increases my concentration,” he says. 

Daniel is a 2019 graduate of Brookwood High School in Snellville, Georgia. He plans to attend Gwinnett Technical College and study computer science with a focus on gaming and web design.

Daniel says he will always remember his wonderful childhood days at the Y.

Thanks to funding from Autism Speaks, the Y continues to offer swim lessons to children with autism.

By Erica K. Faulkner
Director of Content and Social Media