SINGAPORE - As an autistic eight-year-old back in 2003, Tan Siew Leong could hardly bathe and brush his teeth on his own, and was scared of going into the water.
"He didn't even dare to put his head underwater," said his mother, Ng Poh Kim.
Today, the 19-year-old is a bemedalled swimmer who has been making a splash in the pool, bagging several golds at Special Olympics competitions in Singapore and China.
He has also become more independent, said Ms Ng, taking public transport to school by himself and even helping to do household chores like washing the dishes.
The change in Mr Tan is thanks to his swimming "buddy", who trained him under the Special Olympics' Unified Sports programme, which pairs up athletes with intellectual disabilities and their able-bodied counterparts to train together.
The Special Olympics promotes social inclusion of individuals with intellectual disabilities through training and competition in a variety of sports, including football and basketball.
Over the past 11 years, Mr Tan has been taking weekly lessons in swimming at Delta Swimming Complex and UWC South East Asia (Dover). His partner for the past two years, 18-year-old Rick Kim, coaches him.
The Korean expatriate, who heard about the Unified Sports programme from a friend, joined two years ago and has become more understanding towards the intellectually disabled.