Tuesday, October 25, 2011
Years ago we learned about an interesting program for children with special needs. It involved a unique interaction between the kids and dolphins. Dolphins are smart. They are able to sense things that we humans sometimes miss. Dolphins (you've seen it with some dogs) pick up on a persons ability and feed on it. They'll be gentle with the fragile older woman and rambunctious with the teen. People realized that dolphins have this uncanny way of sensing things and saw that disabled people were also relating to the dolphins in a good, positive way. They took it a step further and found that often disabled children would be particularly motivated to "work" if the reward was a treat with a dolphin. Speech and occupational therapists found this work/reward system to be successful in many children.
Back to Matthew.
After we learned about the program I called and got more information. It sounded like great fun. Yes, it was expensive but maybe we could see some benefit. We got on their waiting list. The wait was long...I'd almost forgotten about it when, in the spring two years later, I got a letter inviting us to schedule a in the summer. I was so excited! Something fun. It might help Matthew. We can call it a vacation.
Until I read the qualifications: Cannot be afraid of water. Uh, oh.
Let me just tell you that Matthew has a healthy respect for water. He doesn't take a shower because he doesn't like water on his head. He never gets too close to the edge of a lake or river, always choosing to throw rocks from 'way back there'... And swimming lessons??? Yeah, right. We tried. Many years we tried. Always the same, screaming kid, scared of the water.
I know you're laughing thinking, "Good grief, that should have been that. But the pictures???" And you'd be right. That should have been that.
But we said, "Let's do it. We'll schedule for the end of summer." Talk about setting a goal. I was not sure we would make it. Still, we'd give it our best shot.
Luckily, Phoenix has a special pool that offers lessons to those with special needs. I signed Matthew up. I think they would only let us sign up for a month at a time. Day one came and we got to the pool. Matthew had been there before and it hadn't been pretty. In his usual manner he turned around and grabbed on to me wrapping his arms and legs better than any octopus. I would say his voice was loud and boisterous but shrill and shrieking would be more correct. I love that pool. It's 5ft at the deepest so the entangled two of us walked out to mid pool. When I finally managed to get him unwrapped he discovered he'd grown. He was standing in the middle with water only to his waist! Score one for mom.
But learning to swim was a different story. No, he did not want to put his face in the water. No, he did not think it was fun to float on his back. No, he was not going to jump off the side of the pool. The teachers were good. They worked patiently with him each day. Day after day. Every two weeks he was evaluated. I think you had to reach Level 3 to be an independent swimmer. He was at Level 1. May ran into June and June into July. One thing I have learned about Matthew is that the more times he does something the closer he is to mastery. (I know...that's the same for most of us...) We decided that once a day wasn't enough and began going back to the pool in the evening. Rebecca also got some lessons and showed us how it could be done. We were well tan that year. We knew all the lifeguards and teachers by name, along with their class schedule and future goals. But still Matthew was barely putting his face in the water. Still screaming. Still scared.
August rolled around and I was pretty worried. He had made progress but was still at Level 2. Should I call the dolphin place? Dear God...hear my prayer... Had I really set a goal we could not reach?
Then it happened. We're in the pool (as usual). Matthew screaming and flailing (as usual). But then the teacher stepped away. HE WAS SWIMMING! Oh my goodness! It was so exciting. As soon as Bob got off work we went back to show off. It wasn't a fluke. He was swimming!
One week later we were on the plane to Florida. The size of the lagoon where the dolphins lived was pretty intimidating. I won't lie and tell you the first day or two was easy but he did it. He worked hard, tried to say the words, and loved his rewards. On the last day I overheard one of the trainers telling another that the dolphin wasn't listening to him. He was right, the dolphin was responding to Matthew.
So if you have what might seem an insurmountable task think of Matthew. A lot of patience. A lot of effort. And a super lot of determination. Amazing what we can do.