Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Drowning Fears of Swimming

I previously wrote about our son’s success with his new swimming instructor, James. Unfortunately, since then, James had to cancel twice and another time we had a long-standing doctor’s appointment for Kai. So, Kai has had only one swim lesson in the past month. Disruptions in the regular routine are hard on kids with autism, and, with these lessons still being new to Kai, the result was that his fears about swimming returned with a vengeance.

Kai started talking about being scared of swimming several days ago. By Sunday, his anxiety had increased and he spoke of Tuesday, swim day, being a bad day. On Monday, he told his teachers that he would not be coming to school the next day. That afternoon, as he was leaving school, he said, “See you on Wednesday” to everyone on his way out as he was planning to be sick the next day.

We tried to be extremely positive with him, telling him that he would be alright, have fun, and that James would take good care of him. But, his anxiety only grew stronger.

Our own anxiety had grown, too. His fears were even worse than before he started his lessons with James. How long would it take to just get him back to square one? How would he perform at school with all his anxiety about swimming?

Tuesday morning came and he did not want to go to school. It took a lot of coaxing to get him into the cab in the morning. Our fears were realized when Kai ended up having his worst day of the year at school. It was so bad that his social worker called us to find out if something was going on at home that she should know about.

I knew that it would be hard to get Kai over to the swim lesson so I volunteered to pick him up at school and drive him over to the health club. Kai smiled when he saw me at school. Perhaps, he thought, swimming would be canceled again. But, when he found out that was not the case, he ran back into his classroom. One of the teaching assistants retrieved him but Kai still refused to leave school. He kept saying that he was scared of swimming and that he would die. I tried to reassure him while his TA employed some helpful calming strategies. After much soothing on both of our parts, we walked Kai out to the car.

I drove him over to the health club where we would meet Mom. Kai did not want to get out of the car. So I playfully carried him from the car into the club and over to the locker room. He laughed the whole way, but when it came time to change into his swimsuit, he resisted again.

When I finally had him ready, I walked Kai over to James who was already in the pool. He spoke to Kai in a reassuring, steady voice. Kai kept saying that he was scared and did not want to get into the pool. James kept speaking calmly to Kai. I was surprised when, a few minutes later, Kai voluntarily went into the pool.

James reviewed the three steps of swimming with Kai: Number one, kick fast; number two, extend your arms; number three, make the “wooooo” sound to breathe properly. He got Kai to perform all three parts, first one at a time, then all together. Within ten minutes, he had Kai swimming out to the middle of the pool.

At that point, James stopped to ask Kai, “Is swimming scary or is it fun?” Kai responded that it was fun and said he wanted to do more.

During the rest of the session, James got Kai to do a lot more, including putting his head further into the water than he had done before. After Kai did that, he called over to us, “Mom, Dad, I did it!” We gave him a big cheer.

Once again, I was amazed at how much James was able to accomplish with Kai. It gives me hope about the things that Kai might be able to achieve, not just in the swimming pool, but in life.

At the end of the session, James asked Kai if Tuesdays would be a day to look forward to or a day to be scared of. Kai said that he would look forward to it.

Now that my own anxiety has been relieved, I will too.


  1. Our Kai took swim lessons this summer and like your Kai at first did not care for it much and was scared, but now he LOVES the water and is like a fish and it is so hard to get him out! :)

    James seems like a great swim teacher

  2. That is so great to hear about the success your son has had. I hope our Kai does as well as your Kai!

    We feel very fortunate to have found a wonderful instructor like James. He is a great example of what a difference the right instructor/therapist/teacher makes.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...