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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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.

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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