Boy learning to swim in swimming pool, wearing goggles and holding a kickboard

When a Swimming Lesson for My Son on the Autism Spectrum Became a Lesson for Me


I have one life, and I have one son. I can spend that life trying to mould my son Jack into a vision of what the mainstream world might think he should be, or I can take his lead, embrace it and support him to be the best version of himself. Just for your information, I’ve taken the second route, and yes, it is far more fun.

I remember when Jack was younger and he was taking swimming lessons. His father Peter and I brought him to the pool with the intention of making him practice between the lessons, but he just wouldn’t do what we wanted him to do. Peter was getting frustrated. Jack just would not swim in a straight line or try out the new strokes. There Jack was, doing spiraling dives to the bottom of the pool and spinning and somersaulting below water. There I was, between the two, conflicted. Should I push him? He’ll never learn if I don’t push him. And it was in that moment the lightbulb flashed so brightly, the memory of it sticks in my head today. I turned to Peter and I said, “Stop… look at him. Look at the joy on that face. We’re doing it wrong… We have to join him… not make him join us.”

And with that, I spun with my son. I somersaulted backwards and then forwards in the water for the first time in my life, and you know what? It was exhilarating. The swish and swash and stomach-churning swiveling dizziness was magic, and I had never experienced that before. My son had just taught me that water was for fun and not just straight-line exercise. I had forgotten fun. And there’s more. It was with that exact lightbulb moment I knew instinctively that everything was going to be all right, and that this boy, my son, was handing me the gift of alternative thinking. That day I let go. I let go of conforming. I let go of trying to “right” all the deficits the professional reports said my son had. I let go of having to explain my son’s behavior on a daily basis to his teacher who was treating him constantly like a bold child. I let go and I eased the pressure on myself and everything began to get better. When I was less anxious, Jack thrived.

I have trust that Jack’s way of navigating the world is the right pace for him. Yes, we get it wrong sometimes, but I don’t care. With patience and perseverance, my son and I are on this journey. And I can honestly say that it is my privilege to have Jack in my life. I believe being different can mean you make the difference.

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