Autism Swimming: I was tired, frustrated and just about ready to give up. I wanted my son Niam, who has Autism, to learn how to swim.
I frantically drove around the city and tried dozens of private swim lessons and group classes. I explained in detail all about my son’s Autism, his needs, and created a book of strategies. I can’t count how many times I was turned away. How hard it was to drag my son away from the pool as tears welled up in his eyes as he pointed to the pool. I watched his heart break as I held him at night to comfort him, holding my own tears back as he cried himself to sleep. This was five years ago.
Five years ago I met you. A young guy in University, teaching swimming to pay your University bills. I asked you if you could teach my son to swim. As I explained about his Autism, I could tell you already knew. He has noticeable delays and different behaviours. You responded, “yeah okay… I’ll do it” I thought to myself, you have no training. But you seemed confident and I was desperate so I said “Okay” . When I brought him in to you for our first swimming lesson I was scared and nervous. I did not want my son heartbroken again. I had my speech down pact, I had strategies to give you but before I could say anything, you spoke, “ I did some research on the internet on Autism. They need rewards and motivation.” My jaw dropped. Before I could say yes, and give you some additional suggestions you took him and left.
I watched as you played with Niam. Its called “pairing” in the ABA ( Applied Behaviour Analysis) world, but you did it so naturally. I held my breath as you sent him whirling up in the air like a helicopter as a reward for every small attempt he made to imitate and learn from you. You celebrated each eye contact, movement and word. My heart stopped in happiness as I heard him scream and laugh in delight. I wept warm tears of love when I saw what a beautiful impact you have had on his life. He learned to say your name, ask for the helicopter ride, and learned the days of the week, just so he could ask for you and remind us of his swimming lesson with his precious friend. Equally , I enjoyed hearing your excitement as you told me what you taught him in every lesson. I felt your reciprocated feelings and your attachment. A bond from the heart is more meaningful and beautiful than any amount of words could ever express. The words Autism Swimming left my vocabulary to swimming lessons.
The impact you have had and still have on his life has been tremendous!
My Niam who could not put his head under water can swim 30 lengths by himself. He often goes to the pool by himself for recreational swims. Never in a million years did I think this was possible. He has even joined the Granite Swim Team with your encouragement and confidence. He does not blend in like the paint on the walls. He is still not fully conversational, and, in group environments is largely dependent on visual cues. That means understanding by watching what his classmates are doing. To all his fellow swim team mates, thank you for being understanding and helpful. It shows the great upbringing you have had from your parents.
Today Brock, I would like to say Thank You from the bottom of my heart. Niam loves you not only as his teacher, but as his friend who believes in him. He treasures every moment with you. I want you to know the skills he has gained will have a meaningful impact on his life. Anyone who says there are issues with our youth today need to speak to me. From where I am standing, all I see is a promising future.
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