At the pool

Recently, a fellow blogger wrote about being the parent of the only child who is crying and screaming at the pool during lessons. It couldn’t have hit any closer to home!

When she was three, I signed Frances up at the local community centre for swimming lessons. From the moment she got there, she would scream and cry and not want to go in the water. I tried, week after week, to get her to take a lesson, but it was to no avail.

It made me anxious and worried and strangely isolated from other parents: why WAS my child the only child who would not tolerate being touched or being put in the water on a raft?

(This was years before any diagnosis was sought or delivered. We didn’t know that she had special needs.)

Other parents would politely offer suggestions, and I didn’t tell them of my suspicions that nothing would work.

I remember well the anxiety that would build in me as another mother suggested that Frances shower at the same time as her own child. Frances wailed, the poor kid, and was too afraid to try each time.

It wasn’t long before the pool staff told me that her behaviour was distressing to the other kids, that she was too loud and disruptive.

That week, I had Pink Cup Dad come with us so that maybe he could see something that I could not.

I’ll never forget the moment when he loudly declared his annoyance at the staff as our little girl sat crying on the ledge of the pool.

“If they’re not going to even work with her to help her through her fear, forget it.”

He walked into the pool area, picked her up, and we left the building. We never went back.

Sure, my child may be very high functioning, but she was the only child who wouldn’t stop crying and screaming at the pool. It might have been a different story had we known that she had ASD — we would have had her in a special-needs lesson — but you never know. You live and you learn.

(By the way, she loves the water now.)

The Beach

Recently, a fellow blogger posted a picture of his son on the beach, and I realized two things: (1) I don’t write about the beach, and (2) we don’t visit the beach very often.

When she was barely two years, Frances’s first excursion to the beach was uncomfortable: she cried whenever her feet touched the sand. The surface wasn’t hot, but she didn’t like the sensation.

When she was three, on her next trip to the beach, it was difficult because Frances was unaware of children trying to play with her and did not tolerate their attempts to play beside her. As a result, she cried often, and there were several meltdowns.

When she was four, we tried the beach again. At this point, we were 2.5 years away from a diagnosis, and a few months away from wondering if we needed one.

At the beach, as she poured sand out of a pail this day, I asked her to move over a few inches from a sunny to a shady spot. The meltdown that occurred, as she lay flat on her stomach, was loud and prolonged; other parents stared and shook their heads. I was quietly alarmed mostly by the fact of the meltdown and its trigger. 

I honestly didn’t know what I was seeing, and I didn’t suspect that Frances had autism. Children have tantrums, but this seemed like more. I just remember thinking, “This isn’t typical, is it?”

In the above panel, she is eight years old, about 1.5 years after diagnosis, and happily enjoying the beach.

Questions, questions…

I do not know if there is a connection between autism and water, if a possible connection is merely speculation or if based on data drawn from a study*, but, to me, there does seem to be. I do know that Frances’s fascination with water can be frightening at times. If there is water nearby, she will find it.

We were at an outdoor family gathering last year, and I found myself automatically tallying the neighbouring pools — I was instantly exhausted when I counted four within bolting reach.

Now, Frances was occupied alongside other children but such tolerance of being around others expires quickly; and, though I would have been vigilant with any child, Pink Cup Dad and I took turns being hypervigilant. Her fascination with water combined with an uncanny talent for climbing makes us very nervous.  

All of this when considered in light of another of her talents — noticing every element of danger in any situation — gives me pause to think. Because this latter talent borders on super-power ability — including cautiously crossing wooden bridges to avoid splinters — I wonder why it does not include water and climbing. There is a startling lack of awareness of danger.

At any rate, I do not even know if her lack of awareness in these two respects is in any way connected to being unaware of her environment in general when she is technically present but decidedly “absent” or unengaged.

It would be very interesting to know if other parents have these questions, too.

*I always intend to read the latest literature, most recent studies, etc., but the time always eludes me.