We visited my wife’s family this weekend to celebrate Father’s Day. They’re a “Modern Family” with a wide range of cultural heritage, political views, and religions or not. What I have come to admire and respect about my wife’s family is, in general, the length they go to be accommodating and accepting of every member in the family – no matter what. They all know of my diagnosis and have been very supportive, kind, and reassuring. I am grateful for them. My family? I’d rather write about happy thoughts.
Like, the fact that our five year-old non-ASD though, OCD and Anxiety riven child, swam today, on her own, for the first time, without freaking out, screaming bloody murder, and then pouting out of the pool just to prove a point to dear old mom and dad that she’s the boss.
Well, yours truly, on Father’s Day, coaxed that precious little girl to swim to him and then coaxed her a little further, and further out in the pool, encouraging her with, “show me your girl power!,” and “trust your floaties!” Did that little girl ever show me and everyone at that pool. I shall never forget her little kicks, her arms striking the water with fury and purpose, working against the shark arm floaties that kept her from sinking, as she swam across the pool, around the pool, and through the pool, exclaiming, “I doing it, daddy! I’m swimming!!” I am so happy my sweet pea gained confidence in her ability to swim and the safety equipment on which we rely, as parents, to protect her in the pool.
Our Aspie? Well, he’s turning into a little fish before our eyes – after I can’t remember how many years of swimming lessons. He is proficient at swimming under water. Has not learned how to take a breath then continue on. He swims to me, an uncle, mom, or stays within water shallow enough for him to touch the bottom with his feet and head above the surface.
Like his dear old dad at that age, he struggles to put together gross motor skills sufficiently for him to swim on the surface using the freestyle swim technique. He can either kick with his feet or awkwardly slap at the water with his hands. He is doing great swimming underwater propelling himself with steady kicks. He has worked so very hard and gained confidence in his swimming ability. He also has a great cannon ball jump into the pool. I understand all too well what he is experiencing with his swimming.
In seventh grade, I tried out for and made the school water polo team. We’d swim laps in a 50 meter pool for the first 30 minutes of practice. Still have the water polo coach’s voice ringing in my ears, excoriating me for swimming freestyle without kicking my legs. “You’d be one of the fastest on the team if you’d kick your *&%$#@ legs!” Backstroke, that clicked, I don’t know why, just did. Could never swim backstroke in a straight line though. Bit of a problem in the middle of a water polo match. Point is, Autism Spectrum Disorder effects not only one’s capacity for social interaction but also one’s fine and gross motor skills which, can make for exponential difficulty learning important life-saving skills like how to swim.
I am very proud of him, his sister, and their determination. That boy won’t quit when he wants to learn a new skill. That is the key, he has to want to learn the new skill. Our challenge, as his parents, is to frame the opportunity to learn a new skill in such a way that he takes ownership and has desire to learn. Our sweet pea? Sometimes, we just have to compel her to stop clinging to mom and dad, coax her into “swimming to us” as we slowly pull back further into the pool, and endure the inevitable loud protestations and pouting to help her build her confidence and use her girl power. Because, that little girl, has got girl power that would make Wonder Women blush. A memorable Father’s Day. My kids made progress on a skill we have been working on for years. As a parent nothing more joyful.