How We Taught Our Severe / Non Verbal Autistic Son To Swim
August 17, 2012
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Now Reading: How We Taught Our Severe / Non Verbal Autistic Son To Swim
August 17, 2012
(originally written & published on August 17, 2012)
After posting pics this week from our lake vacation of my son jumping off the high dock into the water, a lot of people have asked how we taught our 9 year old severe/non verbal ASD son to swim. Here’s the short answer.
When he was younger he really had no fear and he would just walk into any body of water, no matter how cold or deep. We (mom & dad) would stop him because (a) he would swallow the water on purpose and (b) we aren’t strong swimmers and we were afraid that he would go in too deep and not know what to do.
When the king was about 5? we signed him up for one on one special needs swim lessons offered by a near by YWCA for an extemely fair price.
So one Saturday morning we gave our kid over to his first swim instructor, a big/tough 40something gentle giant named Noel.
We told Noel that our son wasn’t afraid at all but swallowed a lot of water. Noel proceeded to have him jump off the diving board into 10 feet of water…in the first lesson.
We were flabbergasted. Our kid could swim! Ok, not swim with purpose. He doesn’t do much with purpose. But he could tread water / doggie paddle like nobody’s business. And he got the concept of holding his breath and coming up for air right away.
And the swallowing water? Noel said, “he’ll learn if we just force him too…” And after a few lessons with Noel and a few strange colored pee-pees he cut down on the drinking dramatically.
We had Noel for one glorious year and then, poof, he was gone and the king has had a few other one one one YWCA instructors since then. The Sunday morning Y swim lesson is now a staple in his life. But none of the instructors were as good or as tough and bold as Mr Noel.
And has the king made a ton of progress in his swimming over the past 4 years? Not really. He is still a great swimmer, but he doesn’t love it as much as he once did. You could say that he used to be OBSESSED with swimming. He would stay in the pool for as long as he could, no matter how cold the water.
Now he’s a bit more typical in a way. He gets cold in the water very fast and wants to get out…or he isn’t in the mood. Or he just wants to do flips, or swim to the bottom.
But he can still doggie paddle crazy good. When I’m in the deep end with him I’m kicking my legs like crazy to stay afloat and I look over at the king and he’s just moving his legs ever so slightly, exerting very little energy to stay afloat. It’s crazy! I started using a noodle in the deep end just to keep up with him.
So mommy still plans his weeks with at least 2-3 pool visits a week, even in the winter.
Besides the Sundays at the Y, our son also gets a one to one OT (occupational therapy) session in a pool on Tuesday afternoons, after school. We pay out of pocket for this and get reimbursed 70% thru my insurance company…when they feel like it.
The OT has been great and really worked on getting him to follow directions and has started trying to get him to swim in a straight line. When he’s motivated he could be swimming laps. But keeping him motivated is always the problem with the king.
We have visions of seeing him in the special Olympics one of these days. But he’s gotta learn swimming in a straight line first. But we want to keep swimming fun for him. Because once it becomes “work” in his mind he’ll probably shut down.
So for now we have a 9 year old who can swim better than his mom and dad (although that’s not saying much) and really enjoys it, when the stars are aligned and it’s not too cold and he doesn’t want to do something else, like stim in the sand.
And for now we are fine with this. And we are thrilled that we’ve found something that our son excels in and is maybe more advanced at than a typical 9 year old.
I said in a Facebook post once awhile back that there’s 2 things the king does better than his typical peers, swim and take pills.
Now if only taking pills was a Special Olympics event.
Written byFrank Campagna
I’m a 48 year old neurotypical dad with a 14 year old son with severe, non-verbal autism & epilepsy. I created this blog to rant about autism & epilepsy while celebrating my son who I affectionately call “the king” :-).