Stay Edge
Night of the 7am Bedtime

Swimming With the Dolphins

After a swim (and a chat with the lifeguards)

I saw two dolphins jumping out of the ocean, far past the waves, on Friday afternoon. I was looking that far out because Charlie was swimming out there too, having kicked madly through the water on his boogie board soon as he hit the beach.

We had timed Friday's beach visit to make sure the lifeguards would be there and immediately notified them about Charlie, his swimming prowess and his not understanding that you just can't swim out where the dolphins are.

The lifeguards were calm and observant. After Charlie responded to neither whistles nor parental entreaties to turn back (like the latter would work!), one of the lifeguards went out into the waves with a surfboard. Jim was in the water watching Charlie who had freed himself of his boogie board and was enjoying a swim in the surf.

Yes, enjoying. The whole problem is that Charlie is a super swimmer. He can swim with the dolphins; I'm sure he must think we were crazy to be yelling at him to come back -- but come back he had to.

The lifeguard had swam out to where Charlie was in no time. Charlie got right on his board and calmly rode in, with a last-minute dunking of himself under a wave. Then he stood smiling on the sand with me while Jim thanked the lifeguards, talked to people on the beach -- nothing like witnessing a surf rescue, even if the rescuee wasn't thinking he needed any rescuing -- and retrieved Charlie's boogie board, which had been washed quite a bit further down the beach.

Needless to say, it'll be only swimming with lifeguards for Charlie. Maybe I'm overly optimistic, but I do think he'll understand someday about not swimming out so far. For the past few years, we've struggled to teach him to "swim between the flags" and, as Jim pointed out, he had indeed done so on yesterday's swim.

Later at home Charlie was querulous, calling for Barney restlessly and not sleeping till after 2am (he is still awake as I'm writing this).[It's 3.30am now and he's still awake.] The beach is a place that Charlie has always felt strongly about and after such an adventure, of course lag would set in. The first blog post I ever wrote was about Charlie swimming: Those days of worrying about him standing too long on the diving board before jumping in have certainly evolved into something on quite a different scale.



I don't think you're being overly optimistic, I believe Charlie will eventually understand to stay closer to the shore too.

Doesn't it seem with all those achievements that seem to take forever to reach, be it swimming, bike riding, or for us Dimitri climbing on furniture to reach shelves or to open a carton of milk, end up for a while at least becoming something of a problem! Takes a while to get over the bumps.

It must be confusing to Charlie who is doing so well swimming that some things are still "wrong". Dimitri also seems to have the urge to swim out to sea and is quite annoyed when we steer him and his noodle back towards the shore. Maybe it's all that open space and freedom that is so tempting?

Judy T

Our kids aren't very good at imagining events they haven't experienced. Happily, despite Charlie's spring experience with the water rescue, he seems never to have experienced struggling to stay afloat. It probably makes no sense to him that you'd object to him going out there - it's the "water version" of his long bike rides and walk/runs! It's hard to instill an appropriate respect for the dangers of the water, without causing fear, in individuals with full comprehension, let alone in individuals who have some language deficits.


Happy to hear Charlie had a positive experience swimming in the ocean this time! He's a smart guy and you've said before that he wants to do the right thing, so I think he will learn. Could you ask the lifeguard to say something, like "Too far. Gotta go back" once Charlie is safely on the board so he understands that it is not just a fun ride? Maybe a social story along the lines of 'I like the beach. It's fun to swim in the waves. Sometimes I go too far into the ocean. If I go too far, I might hear Mom and Dad calling "Charlie, come back!." I might hear the lifeguard's whistle. This means I should swim back to shore. If I don't come back, the lifeguard might have to come get me. I will get on his board and ride back to Mom and Dad.' You could add accompanying pictures from the beach of course. (Sorry for the long comment. We recently practiced writing social stories in one of my classes.)

Kristina Chew

Thanks for the social story idea, AR, I really like it! I think we need to get someone to swim with Charlie, someone who can go that far out with ease -- however much he might understand the story 'on land,' it all becomes different in the water.

@Emma, I'm picturing Dimitri climbing on your furniture -- so many things do past that seem as if they never will...

@Judy, I think some of Charlie's desire to swim as far out as possible is pure teenage boy-ness, that feeling of 'yes I can do anything I want, why are you bugging me?'


As high-functioning as I am, it is really very difficult to pace myself with physical activities---it seems to be an autistic trait to not recognize you're getting tired until you're really, REALLY tired. I'm slowly learning to remind myself that, if I walk beyond a certain distance, even though I can go to that point with ease, I will be exhausted and in pain before I can return the same way. Obviously this is more urgent to learn with ocean swimming---I've never lived near the ocean and my parents never allowed me to swim in a natural body of water( too unsanitary they always said), so I'm not sure how to help with that specific situation, but just a little possible insight in case it helps.

Kristina Chew

@Ashmire, thank you so much-- that is really helpful to know. We've indeed worried that Charlie could be that 'far out to sea' and suddenly realize he's tired or cold or get a cramp and not be able to keep swimming. Always better safe than sorry with the ocean.


"Get someone to swim with Charlie who can go that far out with ease." What a wonderful metaphor for what our kids with Autism need! And what a marvelous volunteer opportunity for some Triathlete competitor who wants a uniquely interesting training challenge!

My fingers are itching to type out an ad for this amazing volunteer opportunity on Craigslist. (But, of course, I won't.) Excuse my buttinsky. I confess, I am a yenta!


Have you or your husband ever considered getting stand up paddle boards? I unfortunately cannot always read your blog so please forgive me if someone has already suggested this.
With SUP boards you would be able to go out pretty far (perhaps all three of you together). I am currently teaching my seven year old autistic daughter to surf. Right now she is happy to stay where I can still stand. The day will come when she will want to go out further, at that point I have to make sure that I am a better surfer than she is (I am also learning) or I will probably invest in a SUP board. I am thinking I would be able to paddle faster on an SUP than she can on a regular board. My daughter has probably gotten more from our visits to the shore than her “official” therapies. I definitely would not like to give up our beach days out of concern that I could not stay close enough to her if she ever got into trouble in the water. Our most peaceful times together have been either in the ocean or on an ice skating rink (her other favorite activity). Hopefully I have given some food for thought.



Kristina, my heart goes out to you 3 when I see what a serious situation Charlie faces in the ocean. I wish I knew some way Charlie could learn to gauge his power.

Ashmire, thank you for this experience. My son with Autism is also quite high functioning. When it came to running, Mars inclined toward limitless thinking without regard to reality checks. When he learned that world-class milers clock in at about 4 minutes, he declared he would do it in 3. So off we went to the high-school track stopwatch in hand. After a few months of record keeping (maybe 90 or so runs) Mars was able to do a reality check and conclude that he had some physical limits. I then saw improvement in executive function and his ability to plan overall.

I am hoping that somewhere out there in the blogsphere someone has had an experience that might help Charlie.

Jen Rosenblum

Don't know about how well any of this would work, but going to throw about some random ideas. Most of the kids I work with, would be by many considerations "low functioning" (I use that by the standards of most people, there at times of the day when they function as well if not better than typical people, and times they don'). Anyway, I don't think they get much out of social stories. There's a bit of theory from which I conclude this, but in the interest of not debating, that's that.
If Charlie would wear a watch, perhaps a watch with a timer? The timer might signal that it's time to come in and take a break (though I do think someone would have to swim out with him to start in order to teach him this).
Among other ideas, repeated practice of listening to lifeguards. That might also need to be set up, and I honestly wouldn't know how.
Last, and I'm sure you know, make the rescues, when he fails to swim in, as boring as possible.

Kristina Chew

@Jen, These suggestions are _so_ fabulous! We are still trying to figure out how to address the whole situation (and feeling sad and bad to be 'depriving' Charlie of his beloved beach and ocean swimming, but it has to be right now).

@Sarah, Charlie is like Mars; needs to physically and actually experience phenomena and concepts.

@David, It's fabulous food for thought! I think one of the problems is that even if Jim were on a board too he couldn't keep up with Charlie and he doesn't feel himself a good enough swimmer to go that far out -- but we have seen paddle boards at the shore....


Hello Jen,

Could you tell me more about alternatives to social stories and the theory you have in mind? In the interest of not debating, it would be great if you could e-mail me directly if you would like to share your insights.

Kristina Chew

Actually I think social stories are in need for a revision; it's good to do them with Charlie, but they only help so much.

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