Swimming Lessons

I imagine most of my posts about my kids will be about my son, Daniel, who is non-verbal and is closer to the severe end of the autism spectrum. But Daniel does have a twin sister, Rachel, and an older sister, Rebecca who was diagnosed just over a year ago with aspergers. Thinking about some of the research into the genetics of autism and just looking at the connection that 2 of my 3 children are living on the spectrum makes me more than just a little concerned about Rachel. At the moment, though, it is just a fear and I still need to parent fearlessly.

This past Sunday, all my babies were with me. Rebecca lives in another city with her mom, so it is not quite so easy for her to see her brother and sister. We all had a wonderful day together with some milestones for Daniel. Lots of new words or word combinations and lots of eye contact, especially with big sister. In fact, when we were all saying goodbye to Rebecca at the bus station, Daniel said for the first time “bye bye Rebecca” and would not break eye contact with her as we walked away.

This was just the most touching moment of the weekend. The most unexpected progress for Daniel came in the pool. Daniel doesn’t like water much. His mother has never seen him sit in the tub and I have been able to get him to sit only once. When I took the kids to the beach last summer, Rachel bee-lined for the lake, while Daniel practised his mountain goat-like balance on the rocks.

When the Hamilton chapter of Autism Ontario www.autismontario.ca organized a swimming day, it was going to be a challenge and a wonderful opportunity all at the same time. Rachel loves swimming. Rebecca has been on swim teams for years, so swimming is important for all my girls. I was hoping just to get Daniel to get his feet wet and had no expectations beyond that.

Once at the pool, Rachel headed into the water right away, while Daniel and I walked around the deck. When Daniel’s mom showed up, she got into the pool with Rachel. At that point, with two people he knew in the pool, Daniel made his way over to the water. After some encouragement, Daniel sat down and started splashing. He loves to splash in the tub, so when he realized how much more he could splash with his feet, he was thrilled. We turned it into a game and Daniel was eventually able to say splash for some turn-taking.

In less than an hour Daniel had made the transition from having only sat in the bathtub once to walking and playing in shoulder-depth water and he could make a new request.

Rachel, the always-on chatterbox (just like her dad) loved the water and was making new friends wherever she wandered in the pool.

The next day, Rebecca would be amazed at the story of Daniel being in the pool and feeling an even greater connection to her brother.

But I think the person who got the most out of the day just might have been one of the parents. Rachel and Daniel’s mom looks to me to do the different stuff with the twins, to move the kids along to new experiences. She was very hesitant to go and only one reason was being seen in a bathing suit. If she had missed some magic that day, she would have missed out on making that memory. It was (to use the hackneyed phrase) a once in a lifetime experience and the four of us have it to cherish.

I got a weekend with all my babies and they now all have a deeper connection to each other via the pool.

As the likelihood of their mom moving the twins to a distant town gets closer to reality, those shared memories are going to be harder to come by.

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