Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Swim Lesson For Son Teaches Parents, Too

My son has been taking swimming lessons for about two years with very little to show for it.

Until now.

Kai is a boy who is afraid of many things, and getting his face wet and being in a pool is one of them. He did have a bit of success with his first instructor, Jody, who had some experience working with kids on the spectrum. It took awhile, but, after several months, Jody was able to get Kai to kind of, sort of swim, about eight feet, with his face in the water.

Things went downhill, though, when Jody got promoted up to management and was no longer available to teach Kai. Without Jody, Kai’s fears in the pool immediately returned. He would constantly cry, “I’m scared” and do nothing but cling to his coach or to the side of the pool. We went through a number of different instructors, but none had any experience working with kids like Kai, and it showed. After several months of this, we stopped the lessons.

A few weeks ago, my wife heard from the grandmother of one of Kai’s classmates that her grandson was taking swim lessons from a young man named James. She raved about how good he was. The name rang a bell and he turned out to be the same person who was referred to us two years before. Back then, James’ schedule was completely booked and we were disappointed that he could not work with our son. And, so, we settled for the instructors who did not turn out to be very good. Now, with nothing to lose, we tried calling James again, thinking his schedule would again be full, but this time he was able to fit Kai in.

At his first lesson with James, Kai, per usual, cried out, “I’m scared!” James gave him a floating barbell to hang on to, but did not let Kai get close enough to cling to him. Instead, he kept talking to him, calmly, patiently.

James had prepared by speaking with me extensively on the phone ahead of the lesson. He had learned that Kai was extremely motivated by numbers. And so, with Kai showing some anxiety, James gave him the three steps to becoming a good swimmer. Number one: kick. Number two: extend your arms. Number three: make the “wooo” sound which James showed how to make by “wooing” while putting his face in the water.

They practiced each step individually near the side of the pool. Then, with James holding onto the barbell, Kai tentatively moved away from the side. He kicked his way to a platform in the middle of the pool. More practice, and then, with his arms extended further and moving less tentatively, he was able to kick his way back to the side of the pool. Next, it was time to put it all together. Kai put his face under water. “Woooo!” he said as he kicked and moved along.

Now, I don’t want to make it sound like Kai did not protest through this at all. He did. But, whenever he did, James kept him from getting overly panicked. He talked to him. He joked with him. He even distracted him with multiplication problems. “What’s six times five?” “30.” “Keep kicking.” “Seven times six?” “42.” “Wooo!”

At some point, without Kai realizing it, James no longer held on to the barbell. Kai was moving completely on his own. When James pointed that out to Kai, he understood that he was going to be okay. After all the past failures, I could hardly believe it when I saw Kai moving on his own for the whole length of the pool.

With that, in just one lesson, Kai overcame his fear of the water and began swimming.

And, with that, we learned some lessons, too. Not all swim instructors are the same. When you have a child with special needs, it pays to find one who really knows how to work with kids like yours. And, we also learned that Kai is capable of learning how to swim after all.

I can’t wait to see what lesson two brings.

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