Get your minds out of the gutter people, it's not about that!
When you are raising an autistic child you continually ask yourself "why isn't he/she.....", life becomes an involuntary comparison of your child to their non-autistic peers (I've just now decided I don't want to use the words quote-unquote normal or neurotypical anymore). And life as a parent of an autistic child becomes an endless puzzle of asking questions, trying to figure out why, trying to figure out how to stimulate the activity or task you are fixated on, to encourage, cajole and even bribe and then to either momentarily reap in the elation of success or to readjust your expectations, perhaps leave this alone for a while and focus on that. And you are never dealing with one task at a time, not really, you are dealing with many things coming at you and while you certainly celebrate successes (no matter how small and I am a firm believer in that), you do it with one eye on the success and one eye on the next thing.
With Maya we have a lot of those things at the moment: why isn't she swimming yet, why isn't she (really) reading yet, why isn't she riding a bike without training wheels yet, why can't she write her name yet? And the list goes on and on. Just the other day one of Maya's friends asked me why she can't ride a bike without her training wheels because she is almost 8 years old? It never stops but I am committed to celebrate my daughter's successes and not gloss over them by looking directly to the next thing.
Today we gained a major victory in the battle against swimming. A while back I posted about seeing Maya's swimming lessons and while I was enormously proud to see that she had mastered putting her head under the water without swallowing and that she was braver in trying new things, she wasn't really quite swimming. Since Maya is on summer vacation she has logged quite a lot of time at the pool, since she loves going there, it is an easy 10 minute walk from the house and it is something fun to do, to use up her energy without having the need for a lot of advance planning. I had also dared to hope that perhaps the exposure might bring her closer to actually swimming. Maya has been to the pool probably 5 or 6 times in the last 3 weeks but each time was either with our nanny Violah or Leo (or both) and while a good time was had by all Maya was still dependent on her inner tube which meant she floated around happily and easily but didn't have the need to swim. Leo has been particularly frustrated that she is not swimming yet despite the many visits to the pool and he is currently defining the world by what she can't do (I go through these phases too) so I knew in a state like this she would not progress further in swimming if he were with us. Leo is also not a strong swimmer, he was quite afraid of the water as a kid and learned how to swim relatively late and while he swims fine now his strokes are awkward and not confident. Me, who spent every (sunny) day of every childhood summer at the swim club, swimming has always been more natural than running or walking and the only sport where I don't look like an uncoordinated nincompoop. So I have always known that swimming was my own domain.
Yesterday afternoon I decided to take her swimming but opted to go later in the day (5ish) in the hopes that the pool would be less crowded. I also decided to go alone with her as I wanted to spend some time alone with her doing something fun and I also thought that perhaps being alone with me might help her to focus on swimming and not just the fun-floating-around. So I told Maya that in order to go swimming she had to agree to forego bringing her innertube, I promised her that we would stay where she could stand and if we wanted to do other things I would hold her. She was a little disappointed (and tried several times to get me to change my mind about the inner tube) but I held firm. I did let her bring a bath toy, a little hippopotamus, who was a kind of stuffed animal but one meant to go in the bath.
At the pool we went in and true to my word we stayed only where she could stand and we threw the litle hippo around and Maya had fun throwing it (and splashing me in the process). The pool wasn't crowded, the throngs of screaming kids mostly having gone home for dinner and what was left were a few straggling teens, a few moms with babies but there was a lot of wide open pool space. Maya was very proud of showing me how she could hold her breath under water (and the addition of giving her goggles has greatly improved her willingness to go under water to the point of showing off). I would throw the hippo and Maya would bounce happily, bobbing her head under the water to fetch it. After a little while I asked her instead of walking to get it, to swim to get it. She answered, "mommy, I am swimming, look" and proceeded to bob putting her head under the water. I then asked her if I could show her what I meant and I showed her how to doggie paddle and showed her how I could swim to get the hippo without walking. She tried a couple of times but seemed a little too afraid to really try it. I let it go for a few minutes and we had a couple of splash battles and the pool turned into a wave pool so I held her close and we rode the waves laughing and having fun. In a little while I decided to try again and I asked her if she would let me hold her so I could show her how to swim. I told her if she was scared all she had to say was stop, and I would stop and not ask her again. She said okay and I lifted her up and put my arms under her legs to prop her up and I asked her to kick her feet in the same way she did in her swimming lessons. She did it easily and laughed because she splashed the hell out of me. I asked her to try again but this time to put her head under the water and kick. She was scared, I promised her I would not let go of her. She tried it again but then couldn't figure out how to kick and put her head under at the same time. When the head went under the kicking stopped, when she kicked she didn't put her head under. After 5 or 6 unsuccessful attempts I just stopped being a little bit afraid that she would become scared and then unwilling to try at all. We went back to throwing the hippo around and just bobbing for it and intermittently having splash battles. All good fun but in a few minutes something marvelous happened. I threw the toy and Maya put her head under the water and started to kick and swam the whole way over to get the hippo. Tears immediately started streaming down my eyes. She swam! For real. She threw the hippo and did it again, and again, and again. Each time bringing her head out of the water to my claps, cheers and tears. In a few minutes she was swimming the width of the pool, only stopping once to take a breath (which involved standing up) and on and on it went for the next hour and a half. She even managed to find 2 and a half euros in coins by diving down to the bottom of the pool. Of course I wanted to film the whole thing but I was afraid the introduction of the camera might upset the situation and she would be too focused on the camera to actually swim as her autistic self sees a camera and she just freezes and poses.
I am so proud of her and selfishly so proud that this didn't happen at school, but with ME. I am Super Mommy! The magical mommy who can turn an innertube dependent little girl into a swimmer.
Learning to relax for a candid photo - add another thing to the list. See how that works?