Now that summer is here, we are starting some new activities and seeing positive changes. On Sunday we took our family swimming at an indoor park. Our children took swimming lessons last year and passed but our son has severe problems with swimming and staying afloat. It is a major concern on our part for safety near water! We have found it very difficult to teach him how to kick his legs and move his arms at the same time. He understood the command to kick his feet but he cannot grasp how to rotate his arms in order to move in the water or stay afloat.
The park we took him to was reasonably priced and an excellent sensory activity. They had slides, kiddie area where they can walk or sit in low levels of water, they had what is called the lazy river – where you can follow the flow of the water around a path, there was also an area in the pool where the water spun around in a circle, a section where you can swim laps and the best part of all for autistic children…. water sprinklers at various places in the pool. Autistic children need periodic moments where they are exposed to sensations they don’t like. We have found that when we don’t force our son to experience unpleasant sensations that he tends to overreact in more profound ways. The sprinklers would come upon him at times he wasn’t prepared for and then he would start to cry, shake and stiffen up to the point that it is difficult to calm him down.
Blow dryers in the bathroom are a similar situation for him – whenever we go to a public place he will say that he has to use the restroom, on our way there he will repeatedly ask me if there are dryers in the bathroom. If he founds that it has a dryer he will tense up and start crying, but if he founds that it only contains paper towels then he will remain calm while telling me that there are no dryers. Using the restroom in public places is not a pleasant experience while in this stage.
I highly recommend continuing to expose your child in small increments to the things that he cannot tolerate well! If the noise from the dryer upsets him/her then if you have a vacuum, hair dryer or something that is in the same frequency or close to it – run it for a minute or two every day as you slowly build up the time. If he/she doesn’t like water from the shower on his head, again start small and gradually build up the frequency and amount. The nervous system needs to be trained that this is normal and not something to put the system on alert.
Also, don’t be discouraged if changes don’t happen right away. It is important to remember that your child, like ours, may be developmentally behind therefore if he is 8 years old as our son is he may be at the developmental age of 6 or 7 or even younger..
I would also recommend that if you can find a swimming instructor who is trained in working with autistic children! We tried him in a class last year and realized that one-on-one training is going to be the way that he learns at this point and time. Stay safe this summer!