Erika Gleeson started the business Autism Swim to specialise in water safety and swimming for people with Autism Spectrum Disorder. They work with swimming instructors and organisations, providing them with training, resources and support so that they are better geared to teach individuals with ASD and cognitive deficit.

“We provide training and resources to parents so they can rest assured that they are doing all that they can to mitigate the associated risks pertaining to wandering and drowning.  We run a range of different programs around the country which teach our learners vital skills, such as water safety and surf survival,” Erika said.

Erika was inspired to set up Autism Swim due to the appalling statistics around children with ASD and drowning.

“Ninety percent of deaths in children with ASD are a result of drowning. This translates to children with ASD being 160 times more likely to drown than the general paediatric population. The statistics are our driving force, every single day.

Autism Swim is the peak body for swimming and Autism Spectrum Disorder in Australia. Autism Swim is operating in five states/territories across Australia, and has recently expanded into Malaysia.

As a senior behaviour specialist and autism consultant Erika has worked internationally and nationally consulting and lecturing on behaviour support and Autism for over a decade.

“When I stumbled across the alarming statistics, I began my pursuit to change these; subsequently Autism Swim was born. There were challenges in starting up; I had the idea, passion and the clinical skills. However, I didn’t have the knowledge or experience in business ownership/management,” Erika said.

“One of the biggest challenges has been learning all business components, such as sales, marketing, compliance and legals, while trying to run the business. Without a team from the outset, you are effectively doing it all, and doing it all consistently well and with confidence is an almost impossible task.” 

“Many people think that an amazing business idea automatically equates to a successful business. If this was the case then there would be so many more triumphs.”

Erika has shifted her thinking to allow that most things will take about five times as long as you think they will – and probably 10 times as much money as you think.

“I think more could be done to assist women, and start-ups in general, with where to start. Whether it be grants, sponsorship, management skills, forums, or support groups, everything can be overwhelming and simply jumping on google can cause an almighty amount of grief,” Erika said.

“Time is not something you’ll have plenty of, so a one-stop-shop for all things start-up orientated would be helpful. You might have an idea, however encouragement and support to take the plunge might also be helpful. It also helps to hear people’s stories; not necessarily what they did well, but where they made their mistakes and what they’ve learned.

Erika’s Advice for women in startups:

  1. It can be a lonely road, so be sure to connect yourself with others in a similar position; they will be the only ones who truly understand the struggles.
  1. Prepare yourself in advance for having a new-born business: it will interrupt your sleep, it will be the first thing you think of in the morning and the last thing you think of at night. You will invest so much into it and you will initially not get much in return; you will expect everyone to think it’s as great as you do. In time, it will love you back. If you can prepare yourself in advance for this, the reality may be easier to digest.
  1. Make sure it’s something you’re truly passionate about; and constantly remind yourself why you’re doing it. It may be the only thing that makes the long hours and stress feel worthwhile. Ask yourself, what’s your motivation?
  1. If people offer to help, learn to say yes. Some will offer because it sounds good and others will genuinely mean it; you will figure out who’s who pretty quickly.
  1. It’s incredibly clichéd but remind yourself that if it was easy, everyone would be doing it.
  1. Ultimately, if you have the start-up itch, scratch it. Whether it’s a raving success or it’s not, you will learn so very much along the way, mostly about yourself.
  1. Be kind to yourself. You’re braver than the average and that in itself is a wonderful quality. Resilience will be one quality you will need to possess.
  1. Try and have fun along the way!