We have just gotten back from another swimming session and although I can see small improvements, they are such small steps that I find it hard to stay positive. I never realized until I had my daughter how swimming for some kids could be such a challenge. And it is not doing the actually strokes it is just being in the water.
As a kid I always liked being in the water, I was never a fast swimmer but I enjoyed being in a pool. When my daughter was still a baby I tried taking her to the pool and she screamed and shook with fear so after 2 failed attempts we left it then tried again and failed again. Then she was diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder and I forgot about swimming while we started Occupational Therapy and Speech Therapy. It was after a few months of the therapy that she started to explain how water felt on her skin – she described the feeling of drizzle through her raincoat as sharp items piercing her skin. That was the first time we started to realise how swimming was a sensory issue for her. If she describes being out in rain as so painful imagine how having her body submerged in water must feel?
After about 1 year of Occupational Therapy we tried private swimming lessons – and the panick set in again so we backed off. Another 2 years of Occupational Therapy and still no swimming. Eventually a holiday with her cousins and she allowed herself to sit on the steps in the pool. It was a massive step forward but still we could see even sitting in the pool she felt uncomfortable in the water.
Slowly, slowly we have been going to swimming pools, playing and trying to get them to enjoy the water but still 3 years on from the first time she stepped into the pool with her cousins, three years of visiting pools and still she can’t swim with a noodle or a board.
It is one of the hardest things I have had to witness. She wants to swim, she really does but her body is still screaming out that the water is not nice. Just today I heard her whispering to herself – the water is not hurting me, the water is not hurting me, over and over again.
So please if you see a child like mine in a learning pool, struggling in the water. Please don’t assume anything. Maybe that child is trying as hard as they can just to be in the water. And if you ever hear a parent saying “we can’t meet up after swimming” – maybe it is because that child is going to be so emotionally exhausted after being in the water that they are just going to retreat to their bed, curl up with their favourite soft toys and read for the rest of the afternoon.
There are so many challenges that we have faced with our sensory kids, challenges that I would never have understood if we had not been living through this journey with our kids. But the biggest lesson it has taught me is this – Never Judge Someone – because chances are you just don’t understand the journey they have been on.