All kids must learn to swim

25 June 2015

Dear friend,

Our journey to get the big lad swimming has been a very long and at times difficult one that started when he was five. We live in Holland, a land that is literally sinking, there is water everywhere. I wanted both the boys to be able to swim as I had a fear of water when I was younger. Now as a mum, I had a huge fear that one of my boys would end up at the bottom of a canal.

Most children at school were starting swim lessons at five. A friend advised that we enrol the big lad in a special group at the local pool that gave more intensive lessons with smaller groups of children. We knew that he would be lost in a large group and were prepared to pay the extra cost. As the course came to the end the instructor had a quiet word with hubby. He wasn’t going to make it! Not only that but he didn’t think he would cope in a ‘normal’ swimming lesson group.

These are the hardest times as a special needs parent. The big lad was completely devastated that he wouldn’t receive his diploma like the other kids. Sometimes you just don’t know where to go next, who to turn to or what to do for the best. Wait another year and then try again, find a different group or stop? I decided to contact the Dr that the big lad had seen for his motor skills assessment and ask his advice.
The next battle began as officially he wasn’t ‘bad enough’ to be seen by them. My argument was clear; Ok, he’s not good enough for the ‘normal’ group but not bad enough for you. He falls into this no mans land! So where do we go because we need help?! After a long and quite heated discussion he offered to arrange some one on one sessions with a physiotherapist in their pool.

I found it extremely difficult to sit and watch every week. The therapists were unbelievably patient and understanding but something inside of me just snapped and I would come home and cry tears of frustration and anger that our son had to struggle so much to achieve such basic things that other children took for granted.
I feel selfish and ridiculous writing this now but at the time these were my feelings, despite seeing many children with significantly worse problems at the therapy centre. My mum constantly points out that he could be a lot worse but it doesn’t help! Oh, your kid broke his leg, well my friends sons fell off. Sorry it doesn’t make me feel better, I just feel bad for your friends son as well! I was drowning in my emotions (excuse the pun) so at this point my darling hubby took over.

I am unbelievably lucky that hubby and I can be an emotional tag team. Sometimes I struggle, sometimes he does. We don’t make each other feel guilty. We just know when to step up to the plate. Every special needs parent needs that at times.

The physiotherapist was able to recommend another swimming group that catered for special needs children and he began attending weekly lessons there. But once a week wasn't enough! Another friend recommended a swimming group on Saturday mornings for special needs children. In all honesty I wasn’t sure about this group. Why? Because big lad's needs aren't 'that bad'. I wasn’t sure how he would fit in or how he would react around children with more severe problems. We hadn’t even mentioned the word Autism to him at this point. Wouldn't he wonder why he was there?

In hindsight, my worries were totally ridiculous. This group is amazing. Run by caring, patient, wonderful people. He started receiving trophies and certificates to celebrate the small steps he had made. The first time we were invited to watch a session, I was amazed with how much progress the big lad had made, and how happy, comfortable and confident he was. He was failing no more!

The big lad is 8 years and 11 months. It has taken almost 4 years to get him to, the point where he is ready to try for his swimming diploma. I am immensely proud of my darling boy for never giving up. I must admit that there were times when I thought we would never make it.

Would you bloody believe it that 4 days before swimming certificate day he came down with a cold. I hope you are well enough for wednesday because you've worked so hard, I told him and his response as every amazed me. Even if I am not 100% I am still going to go and give it my best shot! And he did...

There were plenty of tears but as my big lad explained; mummy had to cry as she was so so proud of me.

HE DID IT! Not just one diploma but two.

I wish I could go back to the beginning of this experience and give myself some advice; to relax and have faith that he will always get there in the end but to let him set his own tempo and to never compare his journey with that of neurotypical friends. 

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