« Parenting

The Old Familiar Places or "You Want Me to Swim, Where?"

by Brad Ludwig

Familiarity is a comfortable thing. For an Autistic, it helps relieve anxiety.

Alex and I have a routine. On Tuesdays, I drive to his house and take him to eat, his swimming lesson and another place that he chooses to go.

We always eat at McDonald’s. 95% of the time, he gets a double cheeseburger, fries and apple juice. We eat in silence, for the most part. I do work on asking him questions about his day and if he’s looking forward to swimming. For the most part, he’s silent and nods his head about looking forward to swimming.

We leave and head for the YMCA to go to his lesson. The Y knows us, so we check in and always get a friendly greeting from the people at the desk. He gets ready and has his 30 minute lesson in the large pool that has a large blue water slide.

These are the things he’s used to doing, to kick of our evening together. Two weeks ago, we had to deal with a change in the routine.

Dinner went as usual and we had a good time eating and occasionally giggling at silly things.
The swimming lesson, on the other hand, sent our evening off the rails.

The Y has a yearly pool inspection and repair cycle. The huge pool is drained and repairs are made. No water in the big pool means the lesson has to be done in the smaller training pool. I had been made aware of this, before he and I had started our evening routine. I had been thinking of different strategies I could use to help him cope, depending on his level of anxiety. He was giggly and in a good mood which made me think that he would be pretty easy going about the whole thing.

Sometimes, he’s like that. Change comes, he looks me in the eye, I reassure him and we move on like everything is as it was.

I talked to him about the change. The big pool was closed of repairs and that we’d be using the smaller pool. He nodded that he understood and we moved along with our evening.

We got ready and walked to the swimming area. This area has big double doors to the huge swimming pool. Just to the left is the ramp to the training pool, which is through a door and up a long, straight, ramp. “Alex, we need to go this way, to the swimming pool.” Alex look positively forlorn as he saw the pool was drained of water. Large industrial fans were idly sitting around it as if they were used to help dry it out. There were small concrete patches that were drying around the viewing area and walkways.

He turned his head to look at me. This was the part where I reassure him and everything is cool.

“Buddy, we need to go this way. The big pool is being fixed.” He slouched just a bit and shook his head no. Oh boy.

A minute of convincing got Alex to come with me to his temporary lesson place. He begrudgingly made the trek up the ramp and would occasionally look up at me and say “no”. We walked through the single door and entered the training pool area. This pool had 3 swimming lanes and the equivalent of 2, that were set aside for open swimming. His instructor was patiently waiting for us. I gave him a quick heads up on the situation and let him know this may be rough. His instructor got in the pool and waited for me to perform my magic.

This is a delicate thing. I can’t be forceful with Alex because that may only scare him and raise his anxiety levels to an unmanageable level. That said, his swim instructor is on a clock. Alex needs to try new things and get into safely supervised situations so that he can be comfortable in different settings. I have to look around the place and find the common things you would find in the big pool that are here.

To be honest, I don’t remember exactly what I said. The focus on the surroundings and the quick thinking involved to sell my son on the idea that this is a safe setting are all I could do. Assuring him that there are only minor differences between this smaller pool and the huge one he is used to is all that there is, at that moment in time.

There are times when I have to juggle between multiple people and calm everyone down. It’s a story I may tell some day. A true test of shifting focus between multiple people, figuring out what makes a perfect stranger tick, based on body language and facial expressions and get them to not worry about my child, who is starting to freak out.

Thankfully, I only had to focus on Alex. Over the course of 5 minutes of me talking, Alex got in the pool. He wasn’t too happy about it but was a trooper. Even though the water wasn’t deep, he stood on his tiptoes. He swam for a bit and went to the deep end of the pool, with his instructor. He did 20 minutes out of his 30 minute lesson. He did as much as he could handle, despite his anxiety. He got back to the ladder he has used to get into the water, climbed up, walked to be and said, “All finish”. I looked at his instructor, who had swam up to us and informed him that our lesson would need to end early. He was cool with it. Have I mentioned how cool Alex’s instructor is? He’s amazing.

We left and I told Alex how proud I was of him for doing his lesson anyway. He nodded that he understood.

He had to pause, when we got to the double doors of the large pool, to look sadly at it once more. “Next week, buddy. It will be ready next week.” He seemed satisfied with that answer and we headed to the locker room and got ready to leave.

Thinking back on it, it took a bit of courage on his part to deal with his anxiety and get through the lesson. It also shows me how much he loves and trusts me.

He may not be able to say it, that’s one of the ways he reaffirms it.