Water is life. When Tucker was a toddler we, as many parents, had him take swimming lessons. He LOVED the water. So much so that he didn’t like to come up for air. I know this had to be incredibly frustrating to his swimming instructors. They would be trying to teach him ‘big bird, little bird, fly’ and he just kept dunking his head in the water. Such patient teens they were – never really pushing him. Instead, they looked at me and smiled…and waited until he needed some air.
Then – they started bribing. The weird thing was that he didn’t really even respond to bribery.
I didn’t think much of it.
Until I realized what was REALLY going on. Until I saw the words, Autism Spectrum. Many children on the spectrum LOVE the water. Why? Well, actually it’s fairly easy to explain.
First, the water is calming. Think about your own travels – your own life. As a family we go to a nearby lake every summer for an amazingly fun family reunion. My mother-in-law (who is amazing, by the way) can ALWAYS be found at the end of the dock. At 6 AM and at 8 PM, she’s there – at the end of the dock simply looking. Looking out over the water. Watching the calm, soothing, yet predictable current. We know children on the spectrum love calm, we know they love to be soothed, we know they love predictability.
Second, Tucker loves to be under the water because it’s quiet. Everything is muted. It’s calm – there are no sharp or surprising noises. No buzzes, no horns, no shouts, no high-pitch or low-pitch voices. Simply monotone…simply soothing.
Third, the water also feels like a great big hug, children on the spectrum love these great big, tight hugs. I’ll actually cover that in a future post (the hugging part). The pressure from the water surrounds their body and it calms – the water provides the sensory input that the child is craving.
Finally, for once a child on the spectrum is able to experience the world like a NT (see Day #35 – I’m a Neurotypical). They cannot trip and fall in a pool – and if they do there is *usually* a soft cushion…more water. Clumsiness becomes a non-factor. They are weightless in a fun environment. For once, their vestibular and proprioceptive systems (for more information see: Day 7 for Seven Senses and Day 8: Making Sense of Proprioception) can function like us NT’s.
Unfortunately, this obsession and love of water can be EXTREMELY dangerous when combined with the ‘wandering tendency’ of children on the spectrum (for obvious reasons). Recently, I had a reader reach out to me from California. She asked that I ask all of you to vote for her friend, Tammy Anderson-Lee at http://www.nascar.com/awards
If she wins, $100,000 will come straight back to San Diego’s Autism Society to directly help families living with Autism. For more information about the Autism Society San Diego and the inspiring work they’re doing to make the world a better place for those affected by autism, please check out their website at www.autismsocietysandiego.org
Tammy Anderson-Lee is the founder of Aqua Pros Swim School and the Autism Society San Diego’s Surf Camp for individuals with autism. She’s written a book called “Swimming With Autism,” and has made it her life’s work to teach people with Autism how to swim and navigate water safely.
Tammy’s programs are saving lives, and to date, she has taught hundreds of persons affected by autism how to be safe in the water. Tammy is even more special to us all because she has no direct connection to Autism herself. She’s just a great person with a phenomenal heart and one heck of an inspiring mission.
She currently sits as a director at-large on the Autism Society San Diego’s board of directors, and has selflessly given her time and expertise to this organization and our community for years.
The Autism Society San Diego is a 501C3 nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives of all affected by autism. Their entire board is all-volunteer, and they have only one paid employee. This enables the organization to dedicate nearly 100% of donations directly to serving families and individuals through bilingual support groups in multiple locations, family recreation programs, summer camps, information/awareness and support training for local businesses and institutions that service families, grants and scholarships, and many other opportunities that families would otherwise not have access to.