Brooks has come a long way in the pool. As an infant and toddler, he hated the water (he often reminds me these days that “hate” is a bad word, but I assure you it’s appropriate here). I have nightmare memories of him screaming during a Father’s Day vacation in Las Vegas when we dared him to try out a floatie and have some summer fun. But at some point, thanks to continued exposure, he started to enjoy it. Not learning how to swim, mind you, but hanging out in friends’ backyard pools and dipping his feet into ocean waves at the beach for hours on end.
The “learning how to swim” part remains a challenge: he simply doesn’t yet have the combination of coordination and physical strength required to do it independently. And because he knows he can’t swim, he’s afraid of drowning, which makes perfect sense. So over the summer, when we whiled away an afternoon in our god-daughter’s backyard, Brooks was playing catch in the pool and having a great time since he was standing where he could touch the ground. But when he went to get the ball as the pool was gradually getting deeper, he bounced up a few times, but then started to go down.
For me, this was one of those slow-motion moments. In one sense, I was all instinct as I barreled towards him. The exact details become sketchy at that point; not a great swimmer myself, I remember thinking: If I dive under the water, will I be able to open my eyes and see where he is? Would it be better for me to keep my head above the surface? When I finally got to him, my husband had already scooped him up. I hugged them both as Brooks coughed up pool water and then immediately reached his arms out for the ball, unwilling to let the trauma linger even for a moment.
I took a deep breath and the pleasant afternoon continued. I wasn’t worried that he would have drowned—we were watching him. But it haunts me that if he’s ever in a situation where we’re not around, and where there is a reasonable assumption made that he can swim just like any other 8 year old, he will be in trouble.
And that, in a nutshell, and at the risk of using a bad word, is the part of autism I hate.