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?






Understanding and Reacting to “Non-Compliance:” A Letter to Teachers.

We are struggling to be respected, heard and dealt with fairly at our local public school. Our seven year old boy with autism is the pawn in a struggle between what we want for him ( calm , safe , familiar environment with known people) and the school’s desire to use his funding in any way they feel like and push us out if we ask to help ( as we have done for years, both as teachers and volunteers).
This article rang very true to us – when teachers don’t recognise the struggle and the courage of these beautiful children trying to fit into life and give them extra time or a helping hand, behaviour that is fully explainable can be misconstrued.

Autism & Oughtisms

The following is a letter I have just written that I shall be giving to my son’s teaching team next week. He has attended a mainstream school since the start of this year, prior to that he spent two years at a Special School. I think it is worth sharing on my blog, because it touches on issues relevant to all autistic children, and on the problematic issue of dealing with seemingly”non-compliant” behaviours. The only change I have made to the letter, is my son’s name; to protect his identity and privacy I have changed his name to “Joe.”

Joe can appear to be a non-compliant or stubborn child, but in my experience the non-compliance is almost always a reaction to something he can’t or hasn’t verbalised.

His autism means he struggles with communication, anxiety, social interactions, and understanding instructions (for example, because of his literalness). He also continues to…

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Yes, it is that time of the year again!

Birthday season in our family!

We have two daughters born 1 year and 9 days apart. Coincidentally the second girl was born on her father’s birthday. Quite a pile up! (I want it noted that I still managed to present my husband with a great gift between contractions about an hour before the baby arrived. I didn’t want him to MISS out!!!!)

Anyway, we are now entering the danger zone and that is wall to wall, copious, constant sleepovers. Birthday sleepovers for both daughters. Payback sleepovers for other birthday sleepovers. Sleepovers with neighbours and family friends, Sleepovers with new more mature and worldly school friends. Oh My God.

So, we have been gradually creating a new lounge area in a closed in garage at one end of our house. We have painted it and put in a new ceiling. We have put in a new glass sliding door. We have (at great expense to the management) put gorgeous vinyl planking in for the floor covering with fake planks of “Maple”. I dragged in our old IKEA wall unit from the shed and put it up single handedly so the kids had places to display their trophies and photos. I set up an one of their baby cots with cushions that my second daughter sews with her grandma for me! My mum made curtains for every window in our house including  the sliding door. This week we finally got three huge bookcases we had ordered and we put one out there for books and storage. It is lovely out there!

My husband brought home three mattresses from his work flat. We both shopped for snacks and party food. We set up a television, dvd, Playstation etc etc.

First ever sleepover in our new room – here we come!

We picked up the two girls and took them to the pool and bought them afternoon tea. It was quite a moment because my big girl had left these girls behind at her old school where she had been bullied. They are lovely girls but were unable to support her in the horrific climate of unprofessional and lazy teaching that was going on at our local public school.

She has gained confidence and friends at her new school but a year down the track decided she was okay about reconnecting with her old friends.

They watched movies, played with ipods, Playstation, snacked, danced, laughed and my daughter was so happy!

She woke this morning in an absolute panic because one of her friends had completely disappeared. She woke me and we ran to investigate. Her other friend sleepily said she saw her friend going but no idea when. This was 5 am.

There was no message to me, no phone call, no note. Just a missing girl. Then we found a message on the remaining girl’s ipod saying “Sorry I didn’t stay for the hole sleepover but I hope you two have a good day tomorrow”. 

This girl had phoned her mother about 8 minutes after I checked everyone was okay. About my tenth trip to the sleepover zone with food, drinks, movies, chocolates. What more did she want?

I am gobsmacked (the girls are eleven- not too young) that she would phone from our home and be taken without our knowledge as she was “homesick”. Have manners changed this much since I was young?

The girls got over the initial shock and we are keeping the other friend for the rest of the day. We are off to the pool soon! We managed to salvage the sleepover. But I am still shocked.

And just think, I’m having a sleepover with three extra 10 year olds next week. Wish me luck!

Our Clever Dog

When our middle child was only a baby we decided to get a second dog to keep our first neurotic city dog company as we had moved to the country and had heaps more room for pets.

We drove out to a remote farm one cold winter afternoon and were shown around a lovely farm yard by a friendly farmer’s wife. There was a litter of puppies that we had merely gone to “look” at. We were not bringing one home that night. We weren’t ready. We didn’t have a place for it yet. Blah, blah. Etc Etc.

Obviously we fell madly in love with a puppy who fell madly in love with us and we drove home in the dark, cold night cuddling a whimpering and disorientated puppy who we named Moose. We had actually gone out there looking for a dark chocolate pup we were going to call “Mousse” and came back with a grey/brown one who looked more the colour of the antlered animal to us.

 It pooed in my excellent vegie patch and pulled out the seedlings. It screamed like a tiny baby to come in every night which would have been okay but I was exhausted from having an “actual” tiny baby so I had no energy left. Luckily it was as cute as a button!

The dog grew from a puppy and became the boss of all dogs at our house (past and present). It never did calm down our other dog. In fact, it had no time for the crazy, nervous disposition of our first dog..

It was bred to be a sheep dog and it is single minded in its pursuit of tennis balls. It can find a ball anywhere even in grass higher than its head!

Moose has saved our life by finding and alerting us to a brown snake in our back paddock.

She is obsessive, clever, loyal and sweet natured.

We are really lucky to have found this happy-go-lucky, low-key, friendly, protective family member.