The staff at our town's indoor pool is used to Charlie and me. We say our hi's, Charlie gets his fun noodle and bobs up and down to the deep end, I ask him for the noodle and splash beside him for a few laps. Since boys over five are not allowed in the women's locker room, we use the communal shower in the visiting teams' locker room.
There were just a few swimmers at 3.30pm. We had driven through the rain to see Miss Cindy for verbal behavior. Charlie sorted four categories of objects, talked about his eyes being brown and his hair black, did a bunch of puzzles, and knocked over Miss Cindy's water bottle---and, after a prompted "I'm sorry," mopped it up. After lunch he said "zero eight stairs" meaning I was supposed to find "zero eight" upstairs. As I tried to figure out what "zero eight" is, Charlie pulled up a chair and pulled out the entire contents of the top shelf of his closet.
Time to get out of the house.
Charlie always takes his time getting into the pool. He stood on the ladder and watched the fun noodle float. "Hey, bud, just don't go in the deep end so I don't have to save you," said a lifeguard who I had only seen once or twice before.
"He can swim," I said. "In the deep end and everything."
"Can he go to the bottom?" The lifeguard got a bunch of plastic sticks and rings and tossed them all where the water is six feet deep. "Hey Charlie! Get the stick! It's right there! And there's the ring!"
A big breath and down dove Charlie, to pop up, every item in his hand.
And then how he swam. Backfloat, underwater body arching easily. Smiling and kicking.
"How old is he?" asked the lifeguard.
"Eight," I said. The family with the toddler girl who had moved to the other side of the pool when Charlie and I came were watching, I think, as was the guy on the pool treadmill who's always there (we saw him at Target once and he did a double-take). Just as it is thanks to our home ABA therapists that Charlie has been learning how to play with more and more toys, so it is thanks to the lifeguard's small intercession, that Charlie and I were pulled into the community of the pool.
It is too often oddly tempting, and too easy, to self-isolate in Autismland. Staying home all afternoon might mean a lot of stimming and a tantrum or two, but it's a lot "easier" than the detailed business of getting into the car and going to some place and maintaining appropriate behavior and engaging and, and, and! So much simpler to stay put and endure the misadventures of Autismland.
That's just why, to me, it's essential to reach out and get connected, Charlie to other people and the world, me to others and especially other autism parents and autism teachers, therapists, professionals. Politics, religion, tastes in music or books, race/gender/class/ethnicity/nationality, all fall away in Autismland. What binds us together overrides everything else. When there is a tough moment--when the Lite Brite flew through the air tonight--I know you are out there, routing for Charlie in Autismland, as we three are always routing for all of you and yours.
That's why the sudden loss of one autism mother is felt close, so close, to the bone by all of us.
That's why the simplest of gestures--a lifeguard throwing a plastic ring into the pool--is more than kindly and can make someone's (this mother's) day. Because the ring that her boy, wiping the chlorine out of his eyes, handed back was not plastic, but shimmering gold.