Autism, the Community Pool, Stares, and Perseverance
It’s summertime! And that means pool time. …
I’m not a huge fan of water. Watching it from a quiet beach? Yes! Taking my autistic daughter to a crowded swimming pool filled with splashing and screaming children? Not so much.
But life is not about me, so to the pool we must go. …
The first pool trip of the summer is always the most difficult. Rachel dislikes waiting on the sidelines during adult swim every hour, and she thinks she should be able to go anywhere she likes whenever she wants, including the slides. There are many issues with this, but the biggest is that Rachel cannot swim. We tried swim lessons, but that didn’t go so well. (I thought for sure that episode would wind up on one of those reality shows taped by nosy passersby. I’ll write more on that later.) The point is: I have to be with her every second.
So, in we marched to the pool. Rachel squealed with delight and bounced on the balls of her feet. She could hardly contain herself. I relaxed a bit when she let me hold her hand, but then she bolted toward the deep end.
I dropped whatever I was holding and sprinted after her. With a lunge, I grabbed her and tried to hold on. She yanked and pulled. I marveled at her strength and tried to use a calm voice. “Rachel, it is still adult swim. We can’t go that way.”
She yanked harder. I spoke louder. By this time, we had, of course, attracted plenty of attention. Everyone likes a good show, yes? To make matters worse — or more interesting — I have on my sunscreen turtleneck and a mid-thigh swim skirt. I felt as though I should have handed out flyers. “We are not a freak show. She has autism, and melanoma almost killed me.” But I couldn’t just grab the pool’s intercom and announce that. Rachel was still darting toward the deep end, so I couldn’t let go.
I noticed moms leaning together and whispering while they cast furtive glances in my direction. Teens watched with their mouths hanging open. Lifeguards stopped their tasks to watch the show play out. I knew they were all talking and thinking about what a horrible mother I was and how weird we looked. I wanted to run away, but I had no choice. Instead, I made a desperate move. I leaned close to Rachel. “Do you want to go play with the showers?”
That did it. We made a hasty exit to the bathroom. When we heard the whistle for the kids to swim again, the show was over.
In reflection, I doubt most of the people at the pool were judging me. Perhaps a few of the moms were, but that was their problem. Most of the moms were probably remembering a time when they were in a similar situation, and most of the kids were probably wondering why I was wearing a turtleneck to the pool. But that doesn’t matter, either. What matters is that I survived the pool and even returned. I’m setting limits with Rachel, giving her a chance to exercise, and providing her with a great sensory experience. I’m also getting a good workout. Good things all around, eh?
So, happy swimming, my friends.