Yesterday for the first time in over a month I had a day to myself at home so, after dropping off Charlie at school (on time! he knew he was going to go swimming and was up at 5am, and put his own swimsuit on), and after housework of a vacuuming/dusting/laundry sort, it occurred to me to look over the numerous flyers that come home with Charlie's communication book and so did I find a small brochure about swimming lessons.
I checked out the website and then got on the phone and (with a little credit card action), had Charlie scheduled for a 6pm swimming lesson.
Charlie last had swimming lessons about 6 years ago in the indoor pool in our town. Those were the days when I used to take him swimming almost every night of the week at the Family Swim time. His teacher was a friendly young woman, Mamie, who had no background in working with autistic kids, but was able to teach Charlie to blow bubbles, kick, bob in the water, and even the beginnings of diving. Teaching Charlie strokes like freestyle and the backstroke proved harder as, by then, he had figured out to do a very fast doggie paddle. Gradually we dropped the lessons and continued to swim at various pools. Then our pool time slacked off as Charlie and I found ourselves relegated to rather deep wading pools, as the big pool time was all for swim team practice and adult lap swimmers.
The director of the swim lesson program said he had taught some autistic children before and noted that Charlie's instructor is a social worker in a tough urban school district around here. Plus, the pool Charlie would be taking his lessons at is the very pool that is attached to his school. Some years ago, the YMCA we belonged to rented the pool and Charlie and I had some very fun evening swims, marred just a bit when the YMCA staff glared at me for banging on the vending machine when Charlie's package of longed-for Swedish fish got stuck.
Last night, Charlie eagerly ran into the aquatic center just before 6pm. We were greeted by a man who teaches swimming lessons and lifeguards for Charlie and his classmates in the morning! As it turned out, he was integral to Charlie's first swim lesson being successful.
The lesson got off to an inauspicious start. Charlie may have had a whole idea and narrative in his head that, as we were going to the pool in the evening, it would be the old routine of him and me swimming. But I had not brought a swimsuit (deliberately) and Charlie was directed to get in at a part of the pool that, as the lifeguard pointed out, he never does.
Trying to grasp all of these disruptions, Charlie (who had changed into his suit with alacrity and carried out the swim bag by himself) stood at the pool's edge and cried. And cried, and cried.
The director and the lifeguard quietly appeared, the latter standing by and not saying anything at first. Then he whispered a few things to the director and I listened. The lifeguard mentioned about going slow and using a kickboard or foam barbell to get Charlie started and the instructor (who had the kind of unflappable demeanor that is what I try to achieve when Charlie is in distress) immediately did so. She was great about taking my suggestion of keeping language minimal and just let Charlie stand and get used to things. Even though he kept crying and saying phrases that portend being really upset like 'stop it' and 'Barney!', he still followed the instructor's directions.
It took most of the lesson, and the lifeguard remained standing by, watching, but Charlie continued to follow instructions and even to duck under the water a few times. He got out as directed, got dressed, said his good byes, and home we went, to wait for Jim to return from teaching (which did not happen till past midnight---Charlie insisted on waiting up and fell asleep on the couch).
As Charlie and I were driving up to his school and the pool for his lesson, I had been noting to myself that him swimming was not the main point. Just him assenting to go for the lesson---something we have not done in such a long time---and going into the pool, changing, and such would be enough. For all that Charlie loves swimming and the water, he isn't necessarily and always thrilled to swim and be in the water, especially when someone else (i.e., his mother) is insisting he do so. As I reminded myself for the upteenth time, so much about doing things with Charlie is not about achieving whatever skill or task is being presented, but just about getting through the experience, preferably in one piece.
Frankly, it's just nice to be trying to do any kind of lesson with Charlie. We used to have a jam-packed schedule, with afterschool ABA, speech therapy, OT, gym class, swimming; opportunities and classes have dwindled as Charlie has gotten older. There are classes and programs out there, but more than a few specify children with 'high-functioning autism' and the people on the other end of the phone get that nervous tone in their voices when I describe Charlie's, what can I call, it behavior profile.
We'll see how he feels about next week's lessons. Fortunately, he is scheduled for lessons through June, so we've got a lot of good chances.