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?

 

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