There is something about the water that just calls to J. It is not an uncommon thing in children with autism. It’s one of the most dangerous factors for them, in fact*. He has tried to jump off cruise berths, he has bolted for pools and ponds… If there is water, he wants to be in it whether or not that means he’s being safe or not.
It’s a natural fit that when J’s occupational therapist mentioned aquatic occupational therapy sessions last summer that I was ready to sign him up before she even fully explained what it entailed. It was a natural way to get him into the water in a safe manner and engage him in a new way, something which he sorely needs sometimes. The water feeds his sensory needs in a way little else can. It offers resistance, pressure and relaxation all at once. It’s something his body finds almost nowhere else, yet the challenge that buoyancy provides forces him to face his brain’s confusion about where his body is in space a little more than we can make him do so on land. He’s adapted to this on land. He has not done so in the water.
When you let J into the pool last summer and gave him a moment to himself, he would let himself sink like a rock. He would not flail, he had no real instinctive kick to his legs, he genuinely had no clue what he should be doing. His therapist taught him quickly how to find the side of a pool and once there, how to climb out. It’s a lesson that’s stuck with him but it’s a matter of how he can get from away from the wall to the wall where there was a disconnect.
All it took to close the disconnect was one little boy.
Enter A. A will be one of our classmates come October at 4 Paws. He is a little boy with a devilish glint in his eyes and a smile that you will gladly surrender your heart for. He is adventurous, curious, engaging and funny. He also eats like a trucker and blew me away with his love of vegetables. Anyway, he was at a pool party with us (and two more families with children receiving dogs this year, all amazing) and J became his shadow. If A was doing it, J was soon behind. Following him around became such a draw that once he had a pool noodle to hold on to**, he was off and after him! Without holding on to me! He moved as slow as a snail through sludge but he was going, bicycling his legs to get where he wanted to be.
I was amazed then, but I was even more amazed seeing him do the same thing in his first session back to aqua occupational therapy today. The legs started going determinedly, even if he wasn’t properly kicking or paddling he was working to propel himself. He remembered how he solved the challenge before and kept trying.
I say it a lot: These kids, they find their way. They find their way to communicate, they find their way to get around, they find their way to their goals. We may not always know or understand their methods, but it’s truly amazing to sit back and watch the process. You observe, perhaps expecting things to go in a certain direction, and you get thoroughly educated in just how powerful a determined young mind can be. How can we not have faith in our kids, no matter what their challenges may be, when every day there’s evidence to their strengths?
*= Cannot say I have much love for the National Autism Association (they believe vaccines cause autism which is a HUGE red flag of “what the heck are you even on?!”) but these particular facts are important and not colored by their misguided thoughts elsewhere.
**= he was not just reliant upon the noodle, though he could have managed. He wears a life vest in the water for his safety. He’s getting stronger, but we always err on the side of safety.