Simon has been taking swim lessons for about a year now in the Adaptive Aquatics program at our local Y. He loves his teacher and is doing really well. He’ll never be a competitive swimmer, but that’s not our goal. We just need him to be comfortable in the water and be able to swim enough to reduce the risk of drowning that is so common with autistic people.
We’ve been wanting to start George in swim lessons for a while now. We thought that George could probably do a group class with typical kids instead of needing the Adaptive program. George tends to have less severe sensory and anxiety issues, and generally performs well in classroom settings, so we didn’t foresee a problem. It took a while to get him into a class that didn’t conflict with his school schedule, but we finally got him into one and he had his first class a couple of weeks ago.
Well, he was SUPPOSED to have his first class a couple of weeks ago, anyway.
We got there and he was so excited. I showed him the pool through the viewing window and he started trying to take his clothes off right there in the lobby. I got him changed and we went to wait by the pool. We watched the kids in the class before his while I explained what they were doing. We met another little boy who was going to be in his class and his mom. Both were very nice.
The teacher was the one who taught Eleanor’s first class a couple of years ago, so I was happy to see her. When it was time for class to begin, I went to talk to her. I explained that George is autistic, but that he usually listens really well to teachers in classroom settings. (Listening to parents at home is another story, but I digress.) I normally don’t
She got this sour look on her face, like I had just farted at her. “You know, I’ve never had a good experience with an autistic child in a swimming class.” Uh, excuse me? She went on, “They just don’t listen. They keep jumping in.”
“Well.” I was trying to keep my calm. Really. There were other moms standing right there and they were listening to every word. “He actually listens very well. George, can you go ahead and sit down?”
As he was sitting down on the edge of the pool, he slipped and went in. He’s three. Shit happens. There was a platform there in the water, so he didn’t go in far, just enough to get his trunks wet.
Here is where I goofed up. It never occurred to me that this was going to be a problem, but it should have. For George, when your clothes get wet, you take them off. Period. End of story.
Which is what George immediately tried to do.
I explained to him that we these clothes on to go swimming. To George’s credit, he didn’t scream. He didn’t even cry. He was just sad. “Take shorts off. Take shorts off.”
The teacher had already started the lesson by this point. I asked George if he wanted to try again. He said ‘no,’ so we left. I wasn’t going to force him to stay in a situation where he was uncomfortable in his wet swim trunks. I also wasn’t going to subject him to a teacher who obviously didn’t want him there.
As we walked away, he turned and waved. “Bye-bye swimming!” I was crying at this point. As I was getting him changed, he kept saying, “I so sorry. I so sorry.” It broke my heart.
We left and got Happy Meals for lunch.
When I got home, I immediately e-mailed the swim program manager, who is the one that arranges Simon’s lessons at the same Y. I explained to her what the teacher said, as well as what happened with George when his clothes got wet. I asked if there was a spot in the Adaptive program for him (at least until he’s acclimated enough to be able to do a group lesson). Failing that, I asked for a refund of the $114 I paid for this class, because I sure as hell wasn’t going to send him back to that teacher.
A couple of days later, I spoke by phone to the Aquatics Director, so the boss of the lady I had e-mailed. She was very appropriately horrified and apologetic by what happened. While she didn’t go into detail, I understand that discussions with the teacher were had and the entire swim staff was going to be called in for a meeting on how to handle atypical kids and their parents; i.e, you are never to tell or even imply that they are not welcome.
She also explained that they do not currently have any openings in the Adaptive program, but they are working on training four new instructors and once a spot opens up, we can move George over. In the meantime, she said we could split Simon’s lesson time and have George use some of it. First 20 minutes for Simon and the last 10 for George or whatever. It was our 30 mins to use how we wanted and the money I paid for the class would be moved over as a credit against those private sessions.
I was very pleased with the outcome.
Last week, Adam took George to Simon’s lesson so he could watch. This week, the whole family went, since it was hard for Adam to wrangle both boys on his own.
George got dressed in his swim trunks and even got wet in the shower. He was very patient waiting while Simon started his lesson. Then he wanted to get his feet wet. Then he found the little rubber ducks they use in the lesson sometimes. He thought it was hilarious to throw them into the pool. He was so anxious to go in, I had to go get a float belt for him just in case he got away from Adam and jumped in.
Then it was his turn.
He. Did. So. Great.
He went right in, no hesitation. Laughing and smiling. He even did some kicks and tried to blow bubbles. The teacher, a wonderfully sweet high school girl, took him almost the entire length of the pool and back, with him giggling the whole time. Then Simon had another turn. Then George.
It was amazing. I was almost in tears.
It was a good experience for everyone involved, autistic or not.
A BIG HUGE EDIT COMMENT: Hoy shit, I already wrote about this, didn’t I? Crap. Well, that’s embarrassing. Still, both posts stand since this one contains an update to the situation. However, I must remember to review previous posts before writing again in the future. <runs away to hide>