I took a deep breath and picked up the phone. I had been putting off making this phone call ever since I completed the online registration. Maybe I should have noted his autism diagnosis in the medical box? I didn’t though, and tonight is the first practice, I need to let them know…make sure he can still be on the team…
For the last two winters the Roc has participated in the community ed basketball program, but I knew as time went on, and the gap widened, that basketball may not be the best fit for the Roc. Last year I heard of a local competitive swim team and wondered if the Roc could be on it in the future. He loves to swim and has been progressing in swim lessons, even starting to learn the breaststroke and butterfly this past summer. His boundless energy, love of the water, and willingness to follow directions in the pool, might make him a good fit for a swim team. I really liked what I read about this team on their website:
“We pride ourselves on the sense of community we are creating. We strive to provide an environment where kids can learn to succeed as swimmers and as people. Our club combines fun and hard work in a team-building atmosphere. We do not focus on what place a swimmer may take; we focus on their individual times and reward improvement no matter how big or small. Our swimmers learn about commitment, good sportsmanship, and dedication; as these are tools not only necessary for swimming, but also for life.”
“All swimmers are welcome; swimmers wishing to compete as well as those who wish only to train. Our coaches believe in positive reinforcement with constructive and helpful critiques to motivate and improve their swimmers. Our coaches will not manage any swimmer’s performance either in or out of the pool through humiliation, ridicule or coercive means.”
So I took him to the assessment night, which was packed, and we watched for almost an hour as other kids took their turns trying out. I was able to point out to him what he would need to do and reminded him to show the coaches all the stokes he knew. When it was his turn I pressed my palms together and willed him to do what they were asking. I watched him swim and was dismayed when he got out of the pool before showing them he could do the breast stroke and butterfly. He was so proud of himself for trying out and as we left the building I was able to get it out of him that he said “no” when they asked him if he could do the breast stroke and butterfly. I told him that because there were so many people there and lots of good swimmers, he may not make the team, but he could try out again next year, and that we were really proud of him for trying. Based on the amount of people there and the fact that he didn’t show them all that he could do, I figured he wouldn’t make the team.
But he did!
He got one of the ten open spots on the lower level group! I filled out the online registration and attended the parent meeting where I purchased the required attire and flippers. I wondered when and how I should tell them that he is autistic. I had to make sure he could still participate. This wasn’t a disability specific team and it wasn’t a school team, it is a private swim club. I had been in knots about it for a week and the Roc was so excited to have made the team. I knew he would need a little extra direction and I hoped they would be willing to give that to him.
When the head coach picked up I haltingly told her that the Roc made the team and he was so excited to swim, but he had some challenges. He loves the water, takes swimming lessons, and listens to his swim teacher, but he is autistic and gets distracted easily. He will need directions repeated to him and he gets overwhelmed sometimes…I held my breath while I waited for her answer…
“Of course he is welcome! I’m so glad you told us about him though, I’ll make sure to tell his coach today and we will look out for him tonight. Don’t worry about him needing extra direction, lots of kids in his group will get distracted and need things repeated. He will not be the only one in his group who hasn’t swam for a team. We’ve had other kids with autism on the team and have had great success with them. Something about the water…”
I tried really, really hard not to cry into the phone. I was so relieved to hear her say that he was welcome. I told her so and we talked for a few minutes. I waited until I hung up before laying my head on my desk and letting go. What a relief and a huge weight lifted off my chest. He made the team based on his skills in the water and they were willing to keep him even though he may need a little extra direction!
That evening the Roc had his first practice. He was nervous and I was nervous for him. He was motivated to swim and he left the bleachers when his group was called though he was visibly uncomfortable. I watched the head coach find him and help him get to where he needed to go. I saw her point him out to his coach and then I tried really, really hard not to cry while I watched him get in the water and swim with his group. It was so loud, the pool was crowded with an older group from the team, and the school dive team was also practicing at the other end of the pool. The Roc wasn’t always paying attention, but he followed along and did what the other kids in his lane were doing.
When we got in the car after practice he said, “I really liked that! It was fun!”
A few weeks have passed and the Roc is still really enjoying being on the swim team. We remind him to pay attention and follow directions before each practice and he is trying really hard. He’s a good little swimmer!
This is just one more situation I never thought to hope for. I know I am repeating myself when I say that years ago I couldn’t imagine what the Roc would be like at age nine, that I never imagined he would come so far. But it’s true and it doesn’t get old for me. That’s the beauty of this life. I will always be grateful for these simple things, which are not simple at all. Because trying out for and making the swim team, being a part of the swim team, overcoming the noise level of the pool and the closeness of other kids in the same lane, trying new things – like diving! Well…
It’s pretty dang huge.
I’m so proud of him.