CANADA: Autism – Overcoming Fear Of Water

CANADA: Autism – Overcoming Fear Of Water

Autism boy and his brother at the hotel pool

Autism boy and his brother at the hotel pool

When he was younger, my autism boy was terrified of water. Bath time was an ordeal that involved physically restraining this petrified, screaming child while we sponged him down as best we could. When we had to wash his hair, we would have to take him by surprise and wrap him up like a burrito before he would realize what was going on. These gruelling sessions usually ended with me in tears as I contemplated what I was putting my child through.

A trip to a splash pad one summer’s day a few years ago led to the discovery that although my autism boy hated being submerged in any body of water, he would consent to standing under a spray of water. From that day, our lives were a lot easier: bath time became shower time. My son was not exactly thrilled, but the screaming and terrified looks were replaced with crying and more manageable anxiety.

Although keeping my child clean is less traumatic than it once was, it is still challenging. My son only just manages to tolerate being in the shower for any length of time. Every minute that he is in there, he begs to be allowed out.

And so it was with a great deal of trepidation that I decided to enrol him in swimming lessons this summer. Fear of water or no fear of water, this kid has to learn how to swim. Individuals with autism are twice as likely as the general population to die prematurely from accidental causes. An extremely high percentage of those deaths are drownings.

And so I called the local aquatic centre and told them I wanted to put both of my boys into swimming lessons. I explained about the autism and the fear of water, and expressed my concern that my son would not even get into the pool.

The lady at the aquatic centre said something that I have told myself many times, something that I believe should be a constant mantra for autism parents everywhere.

“We won’t know what he’s capable of unless we give him the opportunity to try.”

These words told me everything I needed to know about the staff at the aquatic centre: that they were prepared to work with my special needs son in a positive and inclusive manner.

On the day of the introductory lesson, I deposited the boys with their instructor and made my way to the observation room, where I leaned forward in my chair and waited anxiously. I knew, at least, that my autism boy would be greatly reassured by the presence of his brother. As I watched, the boys were directed to sit on edge of the pool and dangle their legs in the water.

My younger son readily complied. The autism boy watched him for a few moments, and then followed suit. I held my breath, waiting for a disaster.

But instead of screaming and panicking, my son gingerly lowered himself into the water, to where his instructor was waiting.

I’m sure there was an audible thunk as my jaw hit the floor.

With his hands resting lightly on the instructor’s shoulders, my boy walked from one side of the pool to the other, and then back again. He waited patiently as the instructor went through the same paces with my younger son, and then he did it all over again.

Half an hour later, I met my kids at the entrance to the pool. Both of them were full of smiles, and my younger son could barely contain his excitement as he described how well his brother had done.

Several weeks have passed since then: during this time, we have had a family vacation that included many hours at hotel pools, and there have been two more swimming lessons. Almost overnight, my autism boy has become a water baby. He’s not exactly Michael Phelps, but he can float with support and put his face into the water.

This experience has been a valuable reminder for me to never assume that my kids will not be capable of something.

Have your kids ever surprised you with an accomplishment that you weren’t expecting? Have they ever come to love something they once feared?

This is an original post to World Moms Network by Kirsten Doyle. Photo credit to the author.

Kirsten Doyle (Canada)

Kirsten Doyle was born in South Africa. After completing university, she drifted for a while and finally washed up in Canada in 2000. She is Mom to two boys who have reached the stage of eating everything in sight (but still remaining skinny). Kirsten was a computer programmer for a while before migrating into I.T. project management. Eventually she tossed in the corporate life entirely in order to be a self-employed writer and editor. She is now living her best life writing about mental health and addictions, and posting videos to two YouTube channels. When Kirsten is not wrestling with her kids or writing up a storm, she can be seen on Toronto's streets putting many miles onto her running shoes. Every year, she runs a half-marathon to benefit children with autism, inspired by her older son who lives life on the autism spectrum. Final piece of information: Kirsten is lucky enough to be married to the funniest guy in the world. Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Be sure to check out her YouTube channels at My Gen X Life and Word Salad With Coffee!

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swimmerHurrah for Diana Nyad!

In a few short weeks she has overturned long-established ideas about age and ability and strength and given us all a reason to keep swimming.

Nyad, in case you’ve been looking the other way, is the 64-year-old woman who recently became the first person to swim the 110 miles from Cuba to the U.S. without a shark cage, taking almost 53 hours.

This would be a marathon effort at any time, but when you consider that it was her fifth attempt over some forty years; that she had to wear a mask to protect her from jellyfish stings; that she took in so much sea water it caused her to vomit constantly for almost all of that 53 hours; that she arrived finally with face and lips swollen from sun and sea water – well, then her achievement, and her insistence not to be deflected from her aim, would seem to reflect almost superhuman levels of endurance.

The word endurance does not typically bring to mind 64-year-old women. In our culture, it is often used to describe young men – runners, rowers and cyclists at the peak of their profession or pushy capitalists doing extreme sports to fill that adrenaline void when Wall Street is closed.

Google “Endurance” and up come pictures of young, lean, tanned male muscle in a celebration of machismo as traditional now as images of mustachioed weight-lifters once were in Victorian times.

The same web search also shows sepia-tinged photographs of the tall-masted Victorian adventure ship christened Endurance, on which British polar explorer Ernest Shackleton set off for Antarctic expeditions in the last century. (Twenty-first century sailor Ellen MacArthur’s solo circumnavigation of the globe strangely does not feature.)

Nonetheless, I think many women, hearing Nyad’s achievement, will have given a little nod, and maybe a small smile, of understanding. Many more will never hear of her, yet understand without discussion the will that kept Nyad going.

Though they may not be sports fanatics, or travelers with a yen for the toughest destinations, many women set their own personal standards of endurance in their day-to-day existences.

Their marathon may consist of walking for hours to find water and food in conditions of extreme poverty and hunger. Their endurance training may consist of watching their children die for the lack of a cheap vaccine. Their 53-hour record may be for the time worked within a dangerous and miserably uncomfortable factory, to earn a tiny amount with which a family can just about be supported.

For the luckier ones, endurance may just mean a bleak commute, juggling the needs of employers and families and ever-mounting bills. It may mean keeping smiling when a child is in pain, it may mean getting up for the fifth time in one night to attend to small, fevered offspring while knowing that big important morning meeting is looming. It may mean getting over the disappointment when that male colleague got that promotion. It may mean an ability to keep walking with head high when the cat calls keep coming.

Endurance can mean many things. Diana Nyad has reminded us that it is not an exclusively male domain. Already crowds of cynics are assembling to cast doubt on Nyad’s achievement, wondering how an old woman could have completed that swim in that time. Clearly her next endurance test lies just ahead.

But whatever the outcome, she has broadened the parameters of what the will to keep going looks like. And that is no small feat, either.

This is an original post to World Moms Blog from our writer in the UK and mother of four, Sophie.

The image used in this post is credited to Alan Cleaver. It holds a Flickr Creative Commons attribution license.


Sophie Walker (UK)

Writer, mother, runner: Sophie works for an international news agency and has written about economics, politics, trade, war, diplomacy and finance from datelines as diverse as Paris, Washington, Hong Kong, Kabul, Baghdad and Islamabad. She now lives in London with her husband, two daughters and two step-sons. Sophie's elder daughter Grace was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome several years ago. Grace is a bright, artistic girl who nonetheless struggles to fit into a world she often finds hard to understand. Sophie and Grace have come across great kindness but more often been shocked by how little people know and understand about autism and by how difficult it is to get Grace the help she needs. Sophie writes about Grace’s daily challenges, and those of the grueling training regimes she sets herself to run long-distance events in order to raise awareness and funds for Britain’s National Autistic Society so that Grace and children like her can blossom. Her book "Grace Under Pressure: Going The Distance as an Asperger's Mum" was published by Little, Brown (Piatkus) in 2012. Her blog is called Grace Under Pressure.

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