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Thursday, June 7, 2012

In the Swim

by Jeff Stimpson

Alex is taking swimming lessons. Alex's classes are in a three-pool, indoor center about a three-block walk from the bus stop, and all the way he rode on my shoulders as I warned him he was going swimming in a big bathtub. "Alex, you're going swimming," I kept repeating well into the locker room. He must have wondered why T shirt, denim shorts, diaper, and sandals were swept away right here in the middle of the day, and replaced with a pool diaper and flowered shorts with a string in front.
If Alex was puzzled, he got over it in time to scoot off to the toilets. He loves toilets, though he's only just started to notice a full diaper. He does love to flush. I heard the rush of water, over and over, while I squirmed into my trunks. This class, for special needs kids, takes place in a pool of some 200 square feet, which has an adjustable bottom that can range from a foot deep to about the depth of my stomach. I was to be in the water with Alex. We thought he would take to swimming, based on how he likes to splash and kick in the tub. His therapists have also told us that swimming would slow him down and increase his attention span.
The first lesson starts at 4 o'clock. He wails until 4:30. "Alex, it's just water," I kepp telling him. "You know water."
"Noo! Noo!" he replies, his mouth a rectangle of misery and his cries ricocheting off the tile walls. His tears could fill their own pool. The instructors include a patient, cheerful, burly, young man who had the face of Crazy Horse tattooed on his arm. "Give me five, Alex," he says, and Alex does, limply, while I sneak his feet into the water.
"Stop it," Alex says to me. "Stop it." I want to drown.
"Alex, c'mon." But I have no clue how something as alien as a gigantic swimming pool center – the echoing tiles, the lapping water, the splashes and screeching – settle in Alex's brain. Maybe he just doesn’t understand.
I swish Alex from side to side; show him how to blow bubbles; hold him while he floats on his back; have him hug me as I reach under him and make his legs kick; catch him when he jumps from the side of the pool; hold him high and then bring him down with a splash; and show him how to kick off. First, however, I must get his feet wet, then his legs, then carry him to the center of the pool. He refuses to blow bubbles, but he does giggle when I bring him down for a splash. Then he seizes the side of the pool, no doubt thinking he can finally get the hell out of the water and back to the locker room toilets where he belongs.
"Attention's his big thing, isn't it?" the instructor says. "But he's got a bicycle kind of kick, and he's moving all the time. That's good."
When it comes time to practice arm motions, the instructor makes a fine tactical move by breaking into "The Wheels on the Bus." Alex laughs. "He's got an infectious laugh!" the instructor says. He does, and by the end of the first lesson that sound too ricochets off the tiles. A little. "Alex, you're <I>swimming<I>!" He looks tired, as if he'll faint in my arms the moment class is over.
"Stop it," he says. "Bye! Bye bye!"
I maneuver Alex to the side of the pool. "Everybody, Alex is leaving!" the instructor says. "Bye, Alex!" they call. "Bye BYE!" he calls back, then bolts for the locker room. There, as soon as I have him in yet another diaper and my own hands are occupied prying off my trunks, he heads for the toilets. Across the tiles, over and over, I hear the rush of the kind of water I guess he still prefers.

Jeff Stimpson lives in New York with his wife and two sons. He is the author of Alex: The Fathering of a Preemie andAlex the Boy: Episodes From a Family’s Life With Autism (both available on Amazon) and has a blog about his family at jeffslife.tripod.com/alextheboy. He contributes to various sites and publications on special-needs parenting, such asAutism-Asperger’s DigestAutism Spectrum News, the Autism Society news blog, and An Anthology of Disability Literature (available on Amazon). He is on LinkedIn under “Jeff Stimpson” and Twitter under “Jeffslife.”

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