Sink or swim

9 September 2015

Dear friend, 

As soon as we set foot in the swimming baths I knew this was a bad idea. The place was packed. Kids everywhere. Running around, swimming in shoals, with little supervision. Oh no, a play group! 

I was tempted to turn around and get dressed again. How would my big lad cope with this? But his face lit up at the sight of the huge inflatable so instead I smiled, took a deep breath and dived in.

Invisible Autism do you Sink or swim?

I like my personal space; this stems from a long held fear that someone may kick my dodgy knee and I like to swim in peace. No such luck we were caught up in the shoals. I was determined to make the most of it, I didn't want to be the damp squib (ok enough sea puns)! We played shark mummy and found a quieter corner to perform our synchronised swimming tricks.

The little man waited in line for the slide whilst the big lad battled the inflatable again, with me watching from the side. I observed happily as he pulled himself up (he couldn't do that last time) he tottered along the thinner section before reaching the wider area, the concentration etched on his face. One shoal had sat themselves here and as he arrived they promptly pushed him back into the water.

I wanted to shout! Hey how could you do that, can't you see how much effort it took for him to get there? A part of me was ready to dive into the water and rip the little shits lovelies off there myself, see how they liked it. But I didn't...

They weren't singling him out, it was a game, no-one was safe. After all the kids in that pool did not know the big lad has a disability (autism is invisible) they were just treating him the same as everyone else. Actually, isn't that what I want?! 

He tried again... the same thing happened, he was pushed into the water. I could sense his frustration and gave him the thumbs up and told him to keep trying that it was just a game. He tried again, and again. 

Eventually the big lad climbed out and said I'm going to tell someone and walked over to the assistant who repeated my words; It is just a game. I thought about explaining to the assistant that he was autistic but why what difference would it make? 

I told the big lad; Your brain is telling you it's fun to climb up, walk along and spring off the end into the water but the other boys brains are telling them it's fun to sit in the middle and push everyone off. You have your game and they have there's. They are not being mean they are just playing. You have a choice, give up and do something else or keep trying. 

He kept trying; he fought back, he dodged, he waited patiently, he kept going. I watched from the pool side giving silent encouragement, winks, thumbs up, go on son. Until he made it and with a massive grin on his face swam over towards me asking what shall we do now?

The group left and we had 1/2 an hour peace, the pool practically to ourselves. The little man slid down the tunnel slide about 50 times in a row and the big lad returned to traversing the inflatable. 

I swam peacefully with only my thoughts for company. 

There is a massive conflict between wanting to protect my son from hurt and harm and wanting to prepare my son for the world. 

What kind of parent do I want to be? Is it better that I teach the big lad the social skills to deal with these situations so the next time he knows what to do not just to step in and take over? Is my ultimate goal for him to live an independent life? 

Yes it is! But my goodness sometimes it is very difficult for this protective mum to do

Real protection means teaching children to manage risks on their own, not shielding them from every hazard...

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