Swimming. It has been a wonderful thing for Daniel. He has always LOVED the water. LOVED. THE. WATER. When he was 6 he started with a Kinesiolgy program at MSU, one on one with a KIN student. He wouldn't put his face in the water. But man did he love being in the water. He needed flotation devises. Jason, yes I remember his name from 9 years ago, because when someone is that awesome, you remember their name. He was Daniel's first coach and I was scared out of my freaking mind to hand Daniel over to him outside of that locker room. Daniel just was potty trained. The autism thing was two years fresh. Information wasn't available like it is now. You had to look, really hard. Life was different. Jason worked with him, came up with so many "tricks" to get his face in the water. He finally put it in, briefly, at the end of the semester. The overwhelming fear was alleviated and he could move on. Then coach after coach, semester after semester. We loved some, some we didn't. We touched their lives and they touched ours. The slow progression was always there, but it was always slow. If there is one thing you have to have with a child with autism it is patience. If you don't keep at something, it will never happen. You see our kids like their safe world. Who doesn't? Our job is to nudge them, lovingly, forward. Independence and socialization. That is what we strive for. If you have those two things you can find a place in the world. This goes for everyone. You can be the smartest person in the world but if you can't be a part of it, no one will know.
That is a big concept. But within that big concept it is made of up little things. Little things that all add up to one big thing. We have to celebrate the little things because they all matter. Every single one of them. Sometimes when you accomplish the little things, you know that the big things are possible and sometimes they get you closer to the big goals.
For Daniel, swimming became something that he could do. He couldn't (and didn't want to) play soccer, or baseball the way the other kids did. There is too much going on, too much confusion, too many rules, too much yelling. Oh and running, too much running :). With swimming you get in a pool and you swim. Back and forth. Repetitive. Back and forth. Over and over. This works. It is also great exercise. For Daniel, the water is calming. The exercise is centering. I can honestly say when he is swimming he is happy. I'm not guessing at that. As his high school coach last year said, "He is the only kid I have EVER seen, who smiles while he is swimming". He comes up for a breath and he is grinning. Sometimes giggling. It is contagious. You can't help but root for him. Swimming made him a part of a team for the first time in his life as a freshman in high school. It took him until much later before he could do these laps. It was that gentle nudging over time. Until suddenly one day he was doing it. He didn't know that is what we were aiming for. But I did. One of the few clear goals, besides independence and socialization was that he would some day be on his high school swim team. In some capacity. In Daniel's way. It might not look like everyone else, but he would do it. I didn't think it would be freshman year. But it was. And it was wonderful. I look forward to next year. He swam a lot. More than ever before. But he didn't always understand the "race" part. So we worked on that. Oh....you have to actually TOUCH THE WALL to finish. It's like I could hear in his mind, 'why? I'm here aren't I?' He does it his way. And that is o.k.
It became clear very quickly that he did not know how to dive or how to do a flip turn. It's funny how when something amazing is happening I immediately realize what is next. Like, great, you are on the team, now let's dive. Let's do a flip turn. When Daniel doesn't want to do something, he does NOT want to do something. That fear radiates through him and comes out in yelling "I DON'T! I CAN'T. I WON'T" and YOU CAN'T MAKE me. He will fight, beg and plead. So we gently nudge. We make him try a few things then give him a break. We have been working on diving. He still puts his arms out and jumps in. He can't go in head first. I get it. I was scared of that too. The flip turn? Forget about it. His coaches begged him to try to no avail.
He is participating in Blue Fins swim club right now WITH his brother. This is huge people. They are both doing the same activity at the same time with the same people. While I sit back with my morning coffee and watch. This in and of itself is unheard of. Did I say huge? Does it look the same for both of them? No. Are they both doing it? Yes. And that is awesome. The exercise is great. It is a great way to start the day. One day they worked on flip turns. By the grace of God, we weren't there. But there are some much younger kids there and in one day, they were doing flip turns. One freakin' day. I come the next day and they are doing it. Did I say after one day? This has a very small effect on me. It is just one of many reminders of how much harder things are. But I do not dwell on that. I remember that when you do accomplish something it makes it that much sweeter. Do I wish it was easier? For sure. But nothing great usually comes easily does it? Looking up quotes I found my favorites:
"Success only comes before work in the dictionary" Vincent Lombardi
"The harder the battle the sweeter the victory" Bob Marley
"We must not allow other people's limited perceptions to define us" - Virginia Satir
I started to think about Daniel as a young boy. He is 15 now. I remember bringing him to the park and he got on a ladder to go down a slide. It was before he was diagnosed. And he just hung there. Feet on a rung, hands on one. Hanging on. He didn't know what to do. Other kids just scramble on up. Parents holding them back to not fall or go to not go too fast, and he stood there. Not sure what to do next. I took a foot and moved it up a rung. Then his hand and moved it up a rung and physically showed him how to climb. I knew this wasn't "normal". Why would I need to show him this? Isn't that natural? But taking him through the steps, breaking them down tiny step by tiny step, showed him what to do. So that is the approach we have always taken. Everything gets broken down into the tiniest steps you couldn't even imagine. That you never even thought of.
After the swim club I said "Daniel, did you see all of those little kids doing flip turns?" "Yes" he answered. "You can do it if they can." He didn't say anything, but I planted a seed. Then my husband and I were having dinner with Daniel. His brother was at baseball practice. We started talking about doing a somersault in the water. Not a flip turn. A somersault. I didn't want to say the trigger panic phrase 'flip turn'. Because a somersault is what he needs to do first right? If he can't do that, he can't do a flip turn. Then we moved onto doing a "Loop de loop". It is one of his old time favorite computer games "Freddi fish and the case of the missing kelp seeds" The story is this: One day, Freddi Fish visits her grandma Grouper and finds out that her treasure chest filled with kelp seeds is gone and her grandma is worry because without it, there will be no kelp in the underwater sea and that would mean no food for the various fishes that live under. Freddi promises to find the treasure and bring it back. Eventually, Freddi encounters her best friend, Luther, who was trying to do loop-de-loops but is not succeeding. He eventually bumps his head on a tree and a green bottle fell down from it, giving a clue to something, perhaps to the treasure chest.....Use what they love to motivate them. He thinks that computer game is hilarious. Luther tries and tries while Freddi cheers him on. Sound familiar?
So we took this story and applied it to swimming. It made him smile, ever so slightly and I knew we had him. I said, "I'll cheer you on Luther if you try the loop-de-loop." He said, "will you say 'WOW, very impressive Luther" and I promised I would yell it SO loud. The next day he started trying. His coach Brianna got in the water. He wasn't quite going over. I asked her if she'd get in and flip him over to give his body the feeling. She did. He was angry. He was fighting it, he was complaining. Whenever he is about to embark on something new he goes kicking and screaming. But he kept at it. I knew it was coming. He did it with assistance! I yelled "WOW LUTHER!" and he smiled.
The next day he was fighting it. Yelling, complaining. Then on his own he said to a coach, "hey Cody, want to see me do a somersault?" He said "sure". And he did it. All on his own. In two days. When he's ready, he's ready. And he was ready. And we all cheered him on. And it was fabulous. And he was so proud. And so was I. And I cheered for Luther, I mean Daniel. And he grinned from ear to ear. It was a good day. Two days? One year? Whatever. The harder the battle, the sweeter the victory.
Now to get him to swim toward a wall, full speed and flip over and push off of it just at the right moment. Us mom's are always looking forward aren't we?
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