Sunday, July 20, 2014

Swimming

 
Alex has a healthy fear of water, which is actually a good thing. For some unknown reason, many people with autism who wander away from places of safety often gravitate toward water—ponds, lakes, rivers, and swimming pools—where they can drown if not found in time. [For more information on this issue, please click here for my previous blog entry “Autism and Wandering: A Safety Crisis.”] Despite taking swimming classes in high school, neither Ed nor I can swim well, and we know our limitations in water. Specifically, I would never try to swim in water over my head or would always wear a life jacket on a boat because I don’t trust my ability to swim to safety. I’m sure that I have conveyed this sense of being overly cautious around water to Alex, and he recognizes the potential dangers of deep waters to a non-swimmer.

When he was younger, his sensory issues made him overly sensitive to putting his face in water, and he didn’t like getting water in his eyes. Even though he has always loved baths, he was careful not to splash water in his face, and I had to be careful not to get water in his eyes when I washed his hair. Since water in his face seemed to upset him terribly, I delayed putting him in swimming lessons until he was a little older, and I knew that his special needs would require understanding of his sensory issues and delayed motor skills.

At the age of nine, Alex took swimming lessons through our local YMCA that were supposed to be geared for children with special needs. Although the instructors were kind to him, they were teenagers who really had no idea of how to teach special needs children how to swim. In fact, they seemed more interested in visiting with each other than in actually teaching the kids. Consequently, I worked with Alex myself, teaching him the limited skills I know about swimming, which meant he didn’t learn much that summer. Nonetheless, he enjoyed being in the water, yet still maintained a cautious awareness about not getting in deep water. Like Ed and me, he knows his limitations and keeps himself safe by not getting in over his head, literally.

A few weeks ago, an autism mom friend had shared that the local YMCA offers open swimming time for people of all ages with special needs for a very reasonable fee. Moreover, they offer this session before the facility’s opening hours so that the families have more privacy in the locker rooms and the pool. Because our kids’ behavior can be unusual at times, we don’t have to worry what other people think. Since this seemed to be an ideal situation (added to the convenient location of the Y, which is less than five minutes from our home), I asked Alex if this was something he thought he would like to try. He acted enthusiastic about going swimming and asked me several times about going to the pool the week ahead of the first session. However, I was still unsure how he’d react once we actually went the first time.

Last Sunday was the first session for special needs swimming, and he eagerly anticipated going. One of his concerns was whether they would have clocks because he couldn’t wear his watch; keeping track of time is very important to him. This fear was eased immediately when he saw that they had not one clock but four—one on every wall. I was pleased to see that the pool designated for this activity was not very deep and offered a gradual step down into the water. Also, the water was comfortably warm, which is important to Alex and me because we get cold easily. When we first got there, Alex seemed to have some trepidation about getting in the water, which really didn’t surprise me. He gradually stepped into the water, but didn’t seem to want to get much deeper than his knees as he held on tightly to the railing with one hand and my hand with the other. Knowing that Alex must always do things on his own terms, I just waited until he was ready to move forward. He kept asking me about how deep the water was, and I reassured him by pointing out the markings on the pool walls and by showing him that the water was only up to my waist in the middle part of the pool.

After a while, he decided to venture away from the safety of the very shallow water and railing, and he was willing to walk into the waist-deep water, clutching my hand for security. With time, he even played catch with a ball, which meant that he had to let go of my hand and trust himself in the water. By the end of the session, he had walked back and forth across the pool several times, each time seeming more comfortable and confident in the water. However, I knew that the first session had truly been a success when he asked me if we could come back again the following week. Sometimes things work out even better than we plan.

Even though I hope that Alex someday may learn to swim so that he can be safe in the water, I’m pleased that he knows his limitations and shows good sense about not getting in deep water. Moreover, I’m also glad that he’s willing to try new things, to attempt to overcome his fears and sensory issues, and to learn that these new experiences can bring him enjoyment.

“…and it was a river that I could not cross; for the water was too deep, water in which one must swim, a river that could not be crossed.” Ezekiel 47:5

4 comments:

V ickie said...

Not being a swimmer myself - I can get where I am going but look hilarious doing it" - it took quite some time for my son to learn to swim. He - for the most part - walked in the water while "stroking" with his arms. When you think about it, from his point of view, that is what he saw everyone else doing. It was not until I enrolled him in Special Olympics swimming, did he learn to swim.

K. C. Wells said...

Proud of you both! ❤️

Pam Byrne said...

Dear Vickie,
I'm glad your son has learned to swim. I hope that someday Alex will learn to swim so that he can pass the limited level of swimming skills his dad and I have! Thanks for writing. :)
Take care,
Pam

Pam Byrne said...

Thanks, K.C.! Alex seems to have a way of making me leave my comfort zone, which I'm sure is good for both of us. :) Keeping you all in my prayers for hope and healing.
Love,
Pam