Monday, April 20, 2009

Sunday Swim

Daniel started his Sunday swims in the 3rd grade. After a summer of wracking my brain trying to come up with a reward system for him, it finally came to me. The kid loves the water, lets use it. I went through many many scenarios trying to come up with the ideal structure. In 1st and 2nd grade, Daniel was in the intolerable habit of hitting people. 2nd grade was much improved over the 1st grade. But not good enough. The fact that he picked who would be the victim of his physicality made me very suspicious that he did indeed have some control over this impulse. I hear people all the time, "but he's autistic". Phooey. In my opinion he could be taught other ways to get out his aggressions and frustrations. Hence my desperate attempt at a reward system.

The system had to have a pretty immediate feedback. For instance he couldn't wait until the end of the school year to reap his reward. Daily seemed like too much to maintain, so I settled on weekly. This was the deal. Each day that he got through the day without putting his hands on someone he got a star for that day. We have a chart in our laundry room, that is a blank calendar. If he doesn't hit any one he gets a star. If at the end of the week he gets a star for every day of the school week we will take him swimming on the weekend.

When I first proposed this to the school, since I needed their help reporting. I was met with scepticism. They felt that, for instance, if he hit someone on Wednesday and lost his star he would give up for the rest of the week and would turn into some sort of child sized fighting champion trying to get it all in that week. I really didn't think that would be the case and I held my breath and stuck by my proposal. The basis for this is that when he would hit, he would have great remorse. He immediately would crumble and be horrified at his reaction. If there was a bright side to this aggressive side of my beautiful boy, it was that he would only hit the adults at school. Never a child. He had pushed one or two. But this also led to me thinking he could do this. The school agreed that they would write to me in his notebook at the end of every day if he had earned his star. I sat Daniel down with a chart and wrote out that all the stars = swimming that week. The next week we start over and he starts earning another swim. He was very enthusiastic.

Week 1 all stars earned (even getting a brand new para pro at the last second before school started) Go swimming.

Week 2 all stars earned. Go swimming. (Mom is starting to see that she has committed herself to something here that she can NOT go back on but it's working.

Week 3. Note home. Daniel lost his star. He punched his para in the arm. The para reported that he wasn't even mad. He was just sitting there are he hauled off and punched her. I immediately thought, "this is a test, this is only a test, do not fail the test Michelle, stand by your plan". So when he got home, I braced myself for what was to come when I told him there would be no swimming this weekend because he chose to use his hands on someone. The fit that followed was unprecedented. But I held strong. No swimming. AND the days that followed that week he did not go around hitting people because he had already lost out. On the contrary he said, "I can earn my star today!". So the stars were becoming as important as the big reward. Excellent.

After that test run he never hit someone again until the middle of 4th grade. It was a kid this time. And not to be all,"it wasn't my son's fault" but I'm fairly sure, based on who the kid was, he had it coming. Nevertheless, he lost his swimming. Now we are almost finished with 6th grade and he hasn't lost it since then. We found the right mix of ingredients and come up with a whopper of a result.

That is a lot of background for what happened at our Sunday swim yesterday. I had forgotten that a newly formed autism group rented out the pool from 5 - 7 for a fun "get to know you" mixer. Oddly enough Daniel and I did not arrive until 4:00. Much later than usual and because it normally closes at 5:00 Daniel had gotten out and went to shower. It was only after he was in the men's locker room that I remembered what was happening as a few people were coming into the pool area. A boy who is 17 and goes to Daniel's Thursday swim, and has for the 6 years Daniel has been going, was in the pool. I don't think they have ever interacted. This boy, I'll call him Luke.

I told Daniel that I forgot there was this "party" he had been invited too and that if he wanted he could go change back into his swimsuit and swim some more. He said, "I already swam". I knew that would be the answer. I told him that I had to stay for a few minutes anyway because Luke's dad asked me to keep an eye on him. In a few minutes I asked Daniel if he was SURE he was done, because he could go back in. I was so impressed with how he took this, because I know a year ago he would have been very mad at me for even suggesting the change in schedule. He said, "I don't know yet". A few minutes later he said, "Ok I'll go back in". He stood up, went in the locker room and I swear, he was back out in 15 seconds. It was very "Superman going through a revolving door". I brought Daniel over to Luke, who has a very limited vocabulary and doesn't communicate well, and introduced them. Luke said, "Hi Daniel". I suggested they "race" down the slides, because there are two identical ones side by side. And they did it! They'd stand at the top, Luke would count 1, 2, 3 and they'd fly down into the water laughing. Over and over and over, until Daniel said, "I'm tired, I think I'll rest now". Later, they played catch, then shot baskets in the basketball hoop. For an hour the PLAYED together. It was a beautiful interaction for both of them. I was so overjoyed. Then Daniel said, "I think it's time to go home now." Luke made a very very sad face. Daniel said, "I had fun with you, see you on Thursday". And just like that, I think a friendship blossomed between these two boys with autism. Very fitting for the beautiful weekend we had, with flowers and trees budding all around us. I felt like I was watching both of these boys grow, internally, right before my eyes. It was a beautiful beautiful thing.


Mama Mara said...

The reward chart is brilliant. The new friendship is breathtaking. Great post!

Tanya @ Teenautism said...

Yay, Daniel! Oh, this made me so happy to read for many reasons, but especially for his new friend and their wonderful interaction! And that's so great that you were able to use swimming as a motivator to help him gain control over his hitting impulse. Great job all around!

Anonymous said...

Wonderful. I LOVE success stories like this. So glad Daniel and Luke could enjoy the swim time together and that Daniel handled the change in schedule so well!