Autism and School Swimming

048When school swimming started last week at our small catholic rural primary, my excited boy and I turned up at the pool first thing in the morning. Covered in sunscreen, both wearing swimmers, we nervously awaited our group allocation.

The swimming coordinator/teacher has known all my children from birth as she had a baby due on the same day as my eldest girl. We have been to birthday parties at her house, delivered gifts when she had personal tragedies, sewn quilts for her next child, compared music teachers and drunk champagne together. Mostly we have seen each other at the pool. Where we go every day. Seriously. Rain, hail or shine we go to our local pool every day. We have practically adopted the pool manager and his family.

This teacher knows our children can swim like fish. She knows my boy with autism is especially keen on water and the pool. She has seen him swimming laps, she has helped him remember which stroke he was doing at the beginning of each race at last year’s carnival and she has put him in a swimming group last year where the kids had to swim 8 laps of different strokes in their allocated half hour session. He did it!

But this year the kids were assigned to group after group until only the last few kids were left including my son. She asked if I would help in this group and I said yes. When we got to the side of the pool it became obvious that the kids were not confident in the water. Some were uneasy getting in the shallow end while others wouldn’t put their heads under water. My boy was keenly holding on to the side and bouncing with excitement waiting for the action to start. He had been put into the NON-swimmers group!

I noticed when a couple of the boys were sent up a group to a harder level and thought my boy would be soon sent on. It didn’t happen. We were in the pool floating on our backs, swimming with a kick board and kicking off from the side for the whole lesson.

When I went home I thought about the lesson. I wondered why my competent and confident swimming boy would be put into a group that does not suit his needs. I read the note we had about swimming that said the children would be “practicing for the swimming carnival or learning to swim”. His swimming group allocation made no sense to me.

In the afternoon I went to see the swimming teacher and ask her if my son was in the group that was right for him as he could swim. I told her I was fine with him being in that group if there was a reason as he only needed reminding what each stroke was called and he could swim many laps.

Amongst other teacher talk (I am a trained teacher so I can say that! Ha!) she asserted that my boy would slow the others down (he is faster than me) and may “dolphin dive” while swimming a lap (so what?). Despite telling us all at the pool that these groups were fluid and may not be the best fit for our child and parents were welcome to discuss their child’s group after swimming.

After school I missed several calls where the swimming teacher left a message saying she had”come up with a solution”.  I rang the school back. The swimming teacher had left for the day but the Principal said she was able to report on what they had decided after our discussion. The “solution” to the problem of me mentioning that although my boy can swim like a fish and was placed in a non-swimming group was a corker!

The staff had decided that if I wanted my boy to go to another swimming level then I had to get into the pool with him and do all the activities with him and swim laps with him so he didn’t miss out on any of the instructions! I was speechless. This very much sounded like blackmail to me. I asked a question so they decided to offer me what my child was due with the proviso that I do it all as well! Would they do that to a parent of a typical child? (How ridiculous to even ask!!!!)

My boy has autism. He is unable to complete the NAPLAN tests. He is beginner reader. Sometimes I arrive to volunteer in the school and he is sitting all alone eating his lunch. But he is kind. Good natured. Never wants to be in trouble.  Loves being read to. Loves drawing. Loves the playground. And love love loves swimming!

Swimming is his thing. He can do it. He goes all year feeling or appearing to his classmates as a struggler, an outsider, different, less than, disabled. Suddenly we get to swimming season and he is capable, buoyant and truly ABLE!

Why does the school want to belittle his achievements in learning to swim and our achievements in taking him to the pool so often that he just had to swim from an early age?

I volunteer at the school every afternoon when he doesn’t have an aide to make the teachers lives easier. I volunteered to help at swimming and was the only parent in my swimmers in the pool.

Why would asking a question about my child’s swimming group culminate in me being told I have to swim every lap with him? Twelve months ago he was swimming 8 laps a session with me walking beside him calling out if the stroke had changed. Why would he have regressed in a year?

Is it because, even when they are wrong or mistaken or unskilled in an area, schools always have to win?






The Glorification of Busy

Read this wonderful post by Julia then stop what you are doing and hug somebody you love. Seriously…


I’ve been thinking a bit lately about the guts of 2013….my last bog standard year before getting diagnosed with cancer in the December.

It went a bit like this.  I’d studied a certificate 3 in Community Services Work the year before.  Two days a week, and I loved it.  After years of devoting myself to being a stay at home mum to four children, I had three at school and one at kinder and it gave me so much balance, between being a mother and being, well…me.

So, the following year, in 2013, I decided to throw myself full time into the diploma.  For the better part of the first half of the year, I rose at dawn, got four children off to school and kinder, went to classes all day, or to the library to study, did a round of pick ups at 3.30pm, got some groceries on the…

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Why Autistic Kids Make Easy Targets for School Bullies

This is valuable information for parents of vulnerable kids like mine.

Health & Family

A new study finds that children with autism spectrum disorders are bullied far more often than their typically developing peers — nearly five times as often — but parents of autistic kids think the rate is even higher than that.

In the study, about 46% of autistic children in middle and high school told their parents they were victimized at school within the previous year, compared with just over 10% of children in the general population. Calling it a “profound public health problem,” lead author Paul Sterzing of Washington University in St. Louis told the New York Times that the “rate of bullying and victimization among these adolescents is alarmingly high.”

Many people with autism have trouble recognizing social cues, which makes them awkward around others. They also often engage in repetitive behaviors and tend to be hypersensitive to environmental stimuli, all of which makes kids with the disorder ripe…

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Judith Collins Writes: Disability is a part of life

Unique Ability

Source: Sunday Star Times

Disabled-kids-toysAny parent will tell anyone who will listen that their child is special – often gifted, sometimes challenged but definitely special.

So what happens in the education system when our kids really are special, gifted or challenged, kids with disabilities or special abilities? Sadly, the answer is very dependent on the school zone and more importantly, on the school’s principal and the Board of Trustees.

There is no particular standard reaction from school principals to kids with disabilities or some other form of special needs. One family was told by a high decile state school principal that their child would only be enrolled if the parents funded a full-time teacher aide. Yet, a principal of another high decile state school refused to allow a parent to fund a teacher aide to assist her disabled child. When I questioned the principal about this, he said that allowing a…

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Casual Cruelty

I have returned from the drop off at school again today in tears. My boy, a beautiful, curious and sweet boy of nine years of age, has again bravely entered a world that is confusing, lonely and quite incomprehensible at times.

He has autism. This is school and, indeed life, for him.

All the way to school he asked to come home with me. I had forgotten his afternoon tea bag but said I would come back with it. That was a bad start. Anything out of the ordinary can make him feel unsettled and  unhappy. Lucky for me today, he was feeling pretty upbeat and the begging to return home stopped when we pulled up at the gate.

Our neighbours pulled up behind us. She is my friend and the boys are in the same class. We tried to wait for them but they seemed to be going very slow and I realised the boy didn’t want to walk in to school with my boy.

So, like always, I put my head down and kept going.

We put my boy’s bag where he has been told to put it so that he has a regular comforting spot. That place was taken and even after I moved some bags along, my neighbours boy pushed our bag into a hard to get to place, squashed up, inaccessible.

If I wasn’t there I’m pretty sure my boy’s bag would be on the ground. Pushed off. Left there.

And yesterday, one of the boys made my child wait an eternity while he got what he wanted out of his bag before he let my boy put his bag in his designated spot. I was watching.

We rushed to assembly after the bell and I told my son where to line up in age lines. He was heading there when the neighbours boy ran in and took the first place in the line. My little boy gets confused in all that morning rumpus so I told him to stay behind “Jack”.

Next thing you know, Jack has seen people he would rather be with and taken off to a group of boys at the end of the line leaving my kid confused and not sure if he is doing the right thing.

Nobody said hello to my beautiful boy. Nobody ran at him to greet him. He had just been at home drawing amazing pictures of garbage trucks filled with “trash” and a moose with a beard and telling us poems he had heard. But when he enters this place he is not valuable. He is not a person with wit and caring and a sparkle in his eye. He is the special boy. He is alone.

Back to school Mayhem!

We have had a long and varied summer! We have rested, eaten too much, stayed up way too late, watched countless movies, gone to the pool in our small town a lot, seen friends, flown in a plane, had sleepovers, remodelled the bathroom etc. Busy. Lovely. Over.

School’s back in.

My big girl has been brave all summer about her best friend leaving for an expensive city private school which leaves her facing high school “alone”. She has two other friends but they don’t get her. She broke down the day before school returned and sobbed and hugged me and didn’t think she wanted to go on. I talked for hours about how the things that scare us the most are often the thing worth doing eg. Going to university, going overseas, having a baby. She came good, organised herself completely, marched off to high school and….had  an “awesome” day!! Two days in and she hasn’t stopped talking about her great teachers, subjects and assignments! She is sooooo happy!


Little girl (11 years) was quiet and unconcerned about going into her last year of Primary. No mention of any worries. We had a couple of get togethers with her best friend and thought that would smooth the return to school.

Wrong! They were put in separate classes so have to try to make friends with other people to survive in class. My girl has been rejected soundly by various social groups she has been in before, most of whom have had sleepovers at our house in the last year and she is feeling so alone! She keeps it bottled up and only cracks when she gets into trouble for being non cooperative around the home. She has cried two afternoons with her head in my lap so far. Not good.

Last, but certainly not least, is my lovely autistic boy who just turned nine. We went to a lot of trouble to have a big pool party for him last week so he could see all his school mates before returning to school. We talked about school, teachers, friends and watched a social story prepared by his dad anda wonderful teacher about going back to school.

He started asking with alarm last week if it was nearly a school day so we drew him a calendar to count down. When he knew it was school today he honestly couldn’t sleep last night. He lay in the dark for so long I thought he was asleep and then I heard this little voice pipe up with, “I’m sad about school, you know.”

I took a reluctant boy to school this morning and stayed helping in the library at school until I saw him again at break time. He seemed worried so I came back to cuddle him at afternoon break as I have done in the past and he seemed better. I drove off in tears, however, as I watched him wandering around with his bag of toys and snacks while everyone else were sitting with friends.

This afternoon I returned to find a very content little boy. He came home cheerfully, made his own afternoon tea of a cookie and milk and got me some too! Then sat down and did two pages of homework!

What a day! What a week! Already our schedule is overflowing with party invites, swimming carnivals, maths camps, peer support sleepovers etc! I am already EXHAUSTED!

Bring on the next holiday! I need a rest….