Autism Watch: 2007

Autism and the pool

Posted on: May 4, 2012

When BB was diagnosed, we were warned to be careful and keep an eye on him every single second. Ha, like we didn’t know that already. Kids with autism are frequently runners, escape artists, little people who can get away from you in the blink of an eye. They also often display an abnormally low level of – or no — fear. We parents could be running after them, yelling about the dangers they are closing in on, and they don’t bat an eye. We, however, have a permanent twitch in ours.

In keeping with that fear, water doesn’t scare them. A large, heartbreaking number of children with autism drown each year. I heard that and immediately signed BB up for swimming lessons. We didn’t have a pool, just a spa, but my best friend does. We wanted him to be able to swim with our friends and know what to do if he got too close to water anywhere else. Little did I know, this was an area where BB was anomaly. Read on…

We got to the pool early that first day. I don’t know if he had any clue what he was in for, other than me having told him that I’d signed him up for a Mommy & Me swim class. The reaction to that was pretty typical for the time — no real reaction other than to share his unhappiness with having to leave the house. Getting him in the pool, backpack in hand, was no easy feat. He was still having, ahem, potty issues so I had to be sure he was in the appropriate under-attire, and he was weird about shoes, seams and going anywhere without a shirt on. (That didn’t stop him from stripping if he was having a public meltdown, but that wasn’t the only thing during those years that didn’t make sense.) He made sure that I knew, along with the neighborhood, that he was not into this class. That should have been my warning.

He was curious by the time we arrived at the rec center five minutes later. He was cooperative, if hesitant, about going to check out this pool. Then he saw it. WHAM-O. Interest kicked in. “Don’t run by the pool!” So what do I do? Run by the pool to catch him. Yes, thank you, I know the rules, you can stop staring now, he’s not deliberately ignoring me..

We settle our stuff down on the lounge chairs and wait for the class to start. I was counting minutes to have it start soon, as he seemed interested. Finally, the teacher calls us over. Five other moms climb into the pool with their smiley children…all younger than BB. (Bear in mind, we were within the required age-range.) Darn, I even know one of them. I begin to climb in and what? Huh? What’s that awful sound?

BB, screaming that he didn’t want to get into the pool.

Several minutes later, he’s in the pool. Splashing. Kicking. Unhappy. The teacher’s fine, and the only mom who seems impatient is, of course, the one I know. My neighbor. My next-door-neighbor, a woman who liked to talk. (I’ve since moved.) About people. I am trying to show BB how good the water feels, how it’s like his bath, how he can splash Mama in the face. Slowly, I win him over. The teacher continued onwards with her lesson, thankfully, taking the attention off of us..which was good given that the momentary break was brief as the teacher began having us interact with our child and the water with specific steps that we needed to mimic.

It didn’t take her long to realize that we weren’t going to ace the class and that she might just have to talk a little louder. The 30 minutes went v e r y slow and I was mentally exhausted. BB was physically AND mentally exhausted. Yet I was not to be deterred. We went back every week, sometimes with Dad in the pool with me. The teacher didn’t care, and a couple of other dads did it, since there was no rule on which parent was in the pool. Reinforcements. I’d like to say it got better, but it didn’t really. However, we ‘graduated.’

I signed him up the next year for a level up. The first step was to practice jumping in the water. Uhm, no. He would not do it and the teacher had to have him handed in to her, much to BB’s unhappiness. Once he was in the water, we were not allowed to interact, and the assistant helped BB in our place. It was during this time that we learned that different children aren’t always welcome in public events. We already knew that a melting-down child wasn’t acceptable in Target (and a list of other places) and that people would literally step over a runner who lay on the floor humming, but this was the first class where I couldn’t be with him, aside from his special day class. I’ll never forget the mom who sat down in the parents’ area and said “Did you see that kid? He won’t even jump in! What were his parents thinking putting him in this class?”

She was the first person I ever took one of what we jokingly refer to as The Card. I carry cards in my purse to educate others on autism. I’ve had to use a few throughout the years, gentle ones that explain what autism is and that he’s not trying to be a pain. But this one? It was a little abrupt and stated, in short, that we are trying our best so please don’t interfere…and by the way, your comments are kinda rude.

You should see what she said a few weeks later when his licking phase kicked in.

Fast-forward to now, where he’s 11 and loves to swim. He loves when we go to the beach. You’ll find him in our pool daily when it’s warm enough, and when it’s not, he’s wishing it was. No fear whatsoever, and he’s quite the swimmer. The water calms him. The activity tires him out. For a kid that doesn’t sleep without Melatonin, this is a big deal.

Today he’s been waiting for his big sister to come home. Such patience! He’s had his trunks on for a while and his toys at the ready. The splash when he jumps in always makes me smile. I wish I could look forward to thinks with such excitement and anticipation. He’s come a long way, baby.

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1 Response to "Autism and the pool"

I like your ‘card’ idea. If only others knew what things were like. . . . . Wow, that’s amazing about his progress and how much he loves the water now. I found a documentary on bodysurfing that Patagonia sponsored and part of the documentary is about an autistic boy and his love for the ocean – I did a post on it Come Hell or High Water.

Great post! Thanks for the chuckle about the other parent and the dedication for me to keep persevering with things that my boys may not like now but hopefully, will come to enjoy.

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