Today we celebrate Dar wearing goggles!
Like a lot of kids with autism, and a lot of kids period, Dar generally refuses to have anything to do with headwear. Any day in the sun involves copious application, and re-application, of sunscreen, because he treats a hat alighting on his head the way you would treat a banana peel doing the same thing.
As part of his learning to swim, we have occasionally been ambitious enough to attempt to place goggles on his face. Mostly to see how quickly he would yank them off.
The beach and the Russian River have been fun places for Dar this summer. But not because of taking major plunges. When we’re outside, he tends to keep his upper body dry. Looking at his hair, you’d never guess that his toes would look so wrinkly. And even in the pool, he never makes major moves to get that head wet. He’s just not into it.
He loves time in the bathtub, but he hates it when wifey and I start to wash his head…I mean, hates, hates, hates it, like screams bloody murder the entire time. He’s got his brother hating baths too. Actually, the only time he insists on really looking at his brother is when we’re bathing him. So let’s say we’ve finished bathing Dar and Dar is dressed and we’d love him to be three rooms away. Instead he comes back into the bathroom and watches us bathe R as though he’s watching a slow-motion train wreck. Dar somehow stares and screams at the same time with equal virtuosity. And so his brother screams as well. We know there are parents of children aged 5 and 3 who bathe them without major issues. We do not happen to be such parents.
But anyway, the goggles. I believe I’ve mentioned that Dar’s swimming classes at the YMCA have been going well. His instructor, Jimmy (pictured), is what we call a real character. He has the sort of hipster rasp that makes you think he’s going to say “dude, bro” at any time. He doesn’t say that – did someone give him a note? – but he otherwise can’t stop talking, and he insists on a “for sure,” “for sure,” after just about every sentence. But I love Jimmy. For one thing, he’s excused me from having to be in the pool with Dar, which I personally love. For another, he’s bent over backwards to accommodate Dar’s presence in the Y’s main kiddie pool. At first we’d signed Dar to a class for other toddler-beginners, but as the person who runs the swim classes, he pulled Dar out of that and began instructing Dar 1-on-1. Jimmy also instructs the autistic child of another friend of mine, and it’s true that Jimmy has made the occasional mistake of generalizing one form of instruction for an autistic kid onto another one, but who cares.
One day, Jimmy asked me how I thought Dar would do with goggles. I said I doubted anything would go well, but we had some at home. I said I’d be happy to bring them to the next session, which I did. So Jimmy made his goggles and Dar’s goggles (two separate pairs) into a game. Now, every single day we try to make aversive things – say, the potty – into a game. How often does it work? Not often. But Jimmy either waved a magic wand, or perhaps Dar is just more receptive in the pool. Jimmy had already gotten him accustomed to more and more underwater time; perhaps he realized that it’s fun to open your be-goggled eyes underwater.
Truly one of my highlights of August 2015 – right alongside taking Dar’s brother to Disneyland with his East Coast cousins (we left Dar out of it because we feared Dar would have too many freakouts, based on his behavior at the Santa Cruz boardwalk earlier this summer) – was seeing Dar bobbing in the water with goggles on, and not even slightly trying to take them off. WOW! YAYYYYYYYYY!
Of course, this is all part of a larger goal of him being independent enough to be trusted around water. We’re still haunted by the stories of Avonte Oquendo and other autistic kids. Dar is going to have enough other problems in life; it would be nice to check “accidental drowning” off the list.
I have this thing that I need to get over – I don’t like it when I see Dar looking like a stereotype of a intellectually disabled child. Sometimes this is seeing him with the buttons on his collared shirt in the wrong place, or too high; sometimes this is seeing his underbite; sometimes this is seeing his big sheepish grin when wearing a pair of goggles. Instead of worrying about caricatures, I should be happy he’s happy. Who cares who’s looking, who’s talking. We’re doing, we’re doing, and we’re doing the best we can.