Monday, July 30, 2012

Dear Swim Instructor

Dear Swim Instructor,

You may have noticed my children didn't sign up for your lessons the last two sessions. If you wondered about it at all, perhaps you figured we stopped because the kids were tired of lessons or because we were busy with other activities.

But that's not why.

To tell the truth, Sky wants to keep taking lessons. He's proud of his ability to swim and loves being in the water. But, I just can't do it. I can't leave my kids in your hands, even though I am sure that swim lessons could benefit them both greatly.

The thing is, the last time we were there, Sky had one of his days when it's impossible for him to keep it together. He was loud, had a hard time following instructions, and had trouble minding the personal space of those around him. In other words, he had a pretty typical day for a kid with an autism spectrum disorder. It was difficult for me to watch him that way. It can be frustrating to see him miss out on opportunities because he's lost in his own world and heartbreaking to see how other people respond to him when he's so out of sync.

Do you remember what you said to me that day? My guess is that the conversation has long since left your memory.

You said, "Phew, I'm glad I only have him for an hour. I feel sorry for you!" Your facial expression (you were smiling) indicated you were trying to be light, maybe even funny. You know Sky is on the spectrum, though, and even if you don't quite get what that means, you should be able to imagine that he faces challenges that affect his behavior and make it difficult for him manage certain situations successfully.

Your comment made me wonder. I wonder if you would tell a mom whose kid is visually or hearing impaired that you're glad you only have to spend an hour with her kid? What about a mom whose kid has Down's Syndrome or whose kid is in a wheelchair?

ASD is with us 24 hours a day, every single day. It greatly impacts our lives. It limits Sky's ability to demonstrate his many talents. It cruelly allows him to seem "normal" when he's actually completely bewildered by the onslaught of input from the sensory, verbal, and social cues all around him. We invest much of our time and resources toward helping him function in a world that he is not suited for. It's exhausting. So you're right. You're lucky you only have to "deal" with him for just an hour out of your week. You're lucky you can go home to a family not burdened with autism.

I get that you probably don't really understand how my kid ticks. I get that he can be annoying. I even get that working with him can be demoralizing at times. But please don't dismiss him and his challenges. And, for the love of God, please don't offer me your pity.


Mom on the Edge

PS -- I know you've been teaching swimming for awhile, but since 1 in 88 kids today has an autism spectrum disorder, it might not hurt to educate yourself about it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Reading this made my blood boil! As an instructor, this person should have the skills and compassion to teach a child with ASD, even if their classroom is a swimming pool. I deal with this kind of battle every day as an ALT in Japan. It frustrates me no end the Japanese attitude toward children with disorders like Sky's, not to mention children psychological problems such as anxiety and schizophrenia. I see students with ASD labeled as trouble makers all the time and completely ignored in class as a result. I once overheard two teachers discussing a student who self harms...saying she just wanted attention. They say ignorance is bliss, I disagree. Ignorance cultivates a culture of judgment, misunderstanding and resentment. I sincerely hope you can find another swim school where Sky can get the attention and encouragement he deserves.