Water wings

June 16,2010
Professor Mom
Aliki McElreath( )

Aliki is a writer and college English teacher. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, two children (ages seven and ten), a dog, a cat, a rabbit, and too many fish.

Tuesday night was our first swim meet of the season. On our way home from practice yesterday morning, we talked over what to expect, and strategized about what L. could do, if he felt overwhelmed at the meet. "Don't worry about it," he said, waving his hand and dismissing our discussion. "I'm just going to think about swimming. Swimming and winning," he added. Then it became his mantra for the rest of the walk home. "Swimming and winning. Swimming and winning!" T. joined him in the chant and they walked on ahead, side-by side, swim bags swinging from their shoulders. Scott and I followed and we headed through the woods like that, our children's voices carrying over the hot morning air, and up into the sky. "Swimming and winning!" "Swimming and winning!" ********** Last year was an emotional summer for us, as we watched L. open up and begin to enjoy--seriously and for the first time ever--the water and the outdoors, and an actual organized, team-oriented activity. During the first swim meet I hid tears behind my sunglasses when I watched him jump from the block and strike out, towards the opposite wall. He's all awkward arms and legs and feet on land, frequently bumping into things or tripping, but in water he glided like everyone else. He felt powerful and good--we could see that so easily. I think it radiated from his back when he climbed out, dripping pool water down his tanned shoulders. If it's possible to feel grateful towards a pool, I felt it. At the start of this year's season we held our breaths. Would he willingly sign up again? Would he enjoy it? How would he work with this year's new coaches? Or the kids in this year's 9/10 group? But, fingers crossed, he's doing even better this year than he did last year. The same 360 degree turnaround we saw with his schoolwork back in March has carried over into swimming, too. He's more focused, more invested in the competitive side of things, and more willing to practice to improve his strokes. Swim team works so well for L. because while it's a team sport, it's a "solitary" type of team sport. He can swim on his own in his own lane, without worrying about too much physical contact with other kids. He moves well in the water, and doesn't have to worry about balls coming at him through the air, or the precision reflexes needed for other sports, like baseball or tennis. The water seems to help him with his sensory issues, as it exercises many muscles at once, and cushions all parts of his body in ways I think he finds comforting, and relaxing. Swimming doesn't work well for all kids, or for all kids with autism spectrum disorders, either. And some kids on the spectrum do enjoy more physical, team-oriented sports, like t-ball or soccer. But I do know the vast majority of kids with sensory issues and/or autism disorders find sports of any kind to be too overwhelming and too physically challenging. In the past, we didn't push sports at all, knowing L.'s dislike for them. Now, with one season under our belts, and another one off to a good start, I realize just how important something like swimming can be for a child like L.; how therapeutic physical activity can be, and how rewarding it is to a child's self-esteem and sense of accomplishment; how it contribute to the wholeness of a child, in ways you just can't take for granted as a parent of a child with any special needs. I am so grateful to the pool. More grateful than I had ever imagined I could be. ********** I wrote the above and then later that afternoon we packed the kids up for the season's first swim meet which turned out to be a complete train wreck for our family, really. Maybe I'll be recovered enough from it all to write about it for tomorrow...