One lesson I am learning as a parent of a child with autism is that I have to look past my own fears when it comes to my son. It is just that simple and it is just that hard!
This summer, I enrolled Angel in a mainstream swimming class at one of our state parks. We got off to a rough start but after a short conversation with one of the instructors regarding Angel’s needs things got better over time. I admit that this class was not appropriate. The ratio was 20 kids to only 3 instructors. The instructors were not trained to work with children with autism.
Yet Angel held his own as the two-week class progressed. He went under the shower with the other kids before and after class. This is a big deal because he has always been afraid of showers in public places. He did the exercise routine along with the other kids before they all got in the pool. He also loved to count with the instructors as they went through the routines. He learned how to get in the pool and out. (YAY OT!) He even kicked a few times.
Then there was the day when I was scared sh*tless when Angel had to jump off the diving board into 11 feet of water. Angel thought the diving board was a slide. Bless his heart! There were four lifeguards in the pool, so I knew he was in good hands. When he jumped in the water, I felt like my heart stopped. Tears came to my eyes.
Then he did not come back up. One kid yelled, “OH NO! HE’S DROWNING!” I was frozen at this point.
Everything happened in less than five seconds. It felt like a lifetime! One of the lifeguards helped Angel out of the water. The look on his face was one of shock and his eyes were wide with fear. I felt terrible and second guessed my decision to let him make the jump.
When he exited the water, I ran to him. Guess what he wanted to do next? Go back to the diving board. He was adamant about it, so he got right back in the line with the other kids. I was thinking, “NOPE! Not happening.” Then one of the lifeguards smiled and said to me, “Don’t hold him back!” I smiled in return but said nothing.
Angel did go back on the diving board but then he quickly decided not to jump. So he climbed down and eased himself into the pool from the side. As soon as he got in, he was ready to get out. So I asked one of the lifeguards to help him.
When he came out, this nine-year old girl asked me if he was “special ed.” I said, yes he has autism. Then another little girl chimed in, “He has autism?” “Yes he does,” I replied. They were curious and something about Angel made the first girl guess that he was not like the other kids.
I was curious to know why she asked. So I asked her and she replied, “Because he is always with you.” I guess she meant because I was always the only parent in the pool. I was always never more than an arm’s length away from him (typical proud helicopter mom).
What I loved the most about this experience was seeing the joy on Angel’s face whenever he was in the pool. I have no regrets about him having this experience. Autism awareness happens best in situations when our children can interact with others who may not otherwise know what it is like to be a child with autism.