It was swimming pool nirvana.
I know I speak for many when I say that going to a crowded outdoor swimming pool is a daunting task for parents who have children on the autism spectrum. It was impossible years ago when my kids were younger. I never took them swimming. It was too loud and distracting for them. They were overwhelmed, and so was I. I couldn’t risk having two kids drown while I chased after a third. If someone asked, “How’s your summer going?” and I looked in the direction of a familiar voice, at least one of my kids might be missing among a sea of people. It was too dangerous.
I don’t know what he said before he finally turned around and climbed down except, “No thank you please.” His speech was not intelligible. He just looked like a wise guy who didn’t have any respect for the rules. That wasn’t the case at all.
Going to a swimming pool causes all kinds of sensory issues: it’s too loud, it’s too crowded, it’s overstimulating, it’s anxiety provoking. I try to avoid it as much as possible because I don’t particularly enjoy it, either. Plus, I don’t need anyone to be blinded by my white legs. They haven’t seen the sun in years.
Being at the aquatic center Saturday morning was a dream come true. The weather was perfect. There were no lines – we just walked inside. I signed in and grabbed an autism awareness bracelet. My husband and I easily found a few empty chairs near the waterslides where we sat to watch our sons and relax!
The boys grabbed inner tubes, climbed the stairs, and zoomed down the waterslides. Grins were plastered on their faces time and time again. Noah asked another teenager with autism if he wanted to ride together in a double tube. (Hey, the pool’s a great place to practice social skills.)
There were no long lines for the waterslides. Approximately 65 people came to swim, so it wasn’t very loud. I didn’t see any kids covering their ears. There was plenty of room to splash and laugh and sit and be. I’ve never before thought of a public pool as peaceful. This was it.
People with autism seem to love water. As our physical therapist would say, being in water allows the special needs population to be more aware of where their bodies are in space. (That’s called proprioception.) Water is generally a calming force for children and adults on the spectrum. Isaac loves jumping off a diving board and landing in the water. He loves to have water poured on top of him in the same way he loves to be covered with a weighted blanket at night. He loves the pressure. (Surprisingly, most of the time he does not want to take a shower. What’s up with that?) My son Noah says he can “get away from it all” at the pool and leave his worries behind, especially if he’s swimming in deeper water or doing a pencil dive. It’s like another world to him, he says.