This past weekend, Little Man and I went to an open swim at a local pool sponsored by an autism advocacy group. The pool is located at a campus that serves children with varying levels of medical issues, disability and abuse. I was hesitant to go, as I have never been to the pool before and sometimes get nervous doing new things. However, I am trying to branch out and not be so fearful of new things and, hey, the pool looked amazing online.
So, we headed over to the open swim.
It was a fun morning in the heated, saltwater pool, but more than that, it was a very eye-opening experience for me and – as cheesy and trite as it sounds – I think even a little life changing.
The pool was actually pretty full that morning and the children participating in the open swim varied in age, gender, race and how deep they were in the spectrum.
There was a little girl there who was maybe around 8 years old who was absolutely gorgeous. Beautiful. She appeared to have classic autism and was non-verbal. I found myself wondering if her parents were absolutely terrified because she is so physically beautiful. Good gravy, I was terrified for her with worry that someone is going to take advantage of her because of how physically striking she was.
Another girl was non-verbal, maybe 11 or 12 years of age, and just walked around the pool. She obviously loved the water .She approached me when we got into the pool and I smiled and said, “Hi”, and she said nothing but splashed me a little. It appeared like a happy splash, for lack of a better descriptor, but I didn’t know how to respond so I just smiled and kept moving, as Little Man was already halfway across the pool. I couldn’t help but wonder what was going on in her mind, you know? When I saw her mom walking with her to a changing room on our way out, I noticed that her gait was a little clumsy and her legs seemed a bit weak, so I completely understood why she would want to walk around in a heated saltwater pool for hours
When we were changing in one of the changing rooms so we could head home, there was a knock on the door and I said, “Just a minute!” and a friendly female voice replied, “No problem –we’ll wait! “Then a few seconds later I heard crying and someone started knocking hard on the door. I hurried Little Man along and as we opened the door, a little boy, rushed in, crying. His mother said, “I’m sorry. He doesn’t do well when patience is required.” I smiled and told her that it was okay, I got it.
But here’s the thing that occurred to me: I don’t totally get it. I may *think* I do, but even with his quirks, Little Man is very much different than so many other spectrum kids. I think people sometimes wonder why I always say that and I suspect that their interpretation is that I am in some form of denial that Little Man is autistic or that I am ashamed to say he is autistic.
However, the reality is more that I feel like some sort of cheat or fraud because while he has struggles, they are not the struggles of so many of the kids on the spectrum. For example, one parent was trying to keep his son from taking his trunks off in the pool and was trying to keep him from rubbing the shoulders of strangers. Meanwhile, Little Man and I are discussing how one of the weighted ping pong balls looks like Saturn. Yes, Little Man has a touch of the Sheldon Cooper. Yes, he has obsessive interests and still struggles at times with reciprocal conversations. But he doesn’t seem to have the same level of struggle that so many kids seem to have on the spectrum.
I ended up feeling ashamed that I worry about all the stupid stuff that I let get to me. I seem to end up with so much mom anxiety. If my main worry is whether Little Man will go to college or what middle school he should attend … I mean, really? Then I am way more blessed than so many parents of kids much deeper in the spectrum, who probably fear their own death – not because they are scared to die, but because they worry, “Who will take care of my child like I do when I am gone?”
(Here’s a blog post I like about this topic: http://autism-daddy.blogspot.com/2012/05/toughest-question-for-parents-of-kids-w.html )
And most of all, I am also ashamed because I felt pity yesterday, pity for the parents who have to be exhausted and worried. The reality is, they surely don’t want or need my pity, as the parents I saw at the pool all obviously loved their children, just like I love mine. They were just being parents, doing what parents do.