Sometimes a moment happens in a day, and the memory of it never leaves you.
A couple of years ago I was teaching a very small group of children with autism.
There were six in total, who came to the pool with three teachers.
They were all aged six and seven and were a mixed bunch.
Boys and girls. Some who didn’t make eye contact. Some who appeared “normal” but had their own special ways. All of whom had a variety of challenging behaviours.
However there was one little boy who stood out. He was the most beautiful child.
He had a head of blonde hair, and the bluest of eyes.
Eyes that did not register what they could see. Eyes that stared at the roof, or wandered as he shook his head from side to side.
This little boys fist was always jammed into his mouth, and I was told he was non verbal.
The first time these children came to the pool, five of them screamed with delight.
They each liked different things and one boy in particular was a very good swimmer, which amazed the others.
The sixth was the little blonde boy. He never looked at the others, nor appeared to even know he was by a pool, as he sat eyes to the roof, shaking his head.
As I carried him into the water chatting away to him, he hung limp in my arms.
We didn’t go in too deep, just enough to let him know he was in water.
There was no reaction. His fist stayed in his mouth and his eyes stared at the ceiling.
That first particular day I took him in about four or five times, never venturing too deep.
For eight weeks they came to their lessons , and a more excited bunch you would not see.
Five of them that is.
The sixth little boy remained aloof and alone.
To me it really brought home the isolation that autism for some can be.
As the weeks passed these little ones swam and improved. Eventually jumping in and swimming alone.
Each week I took my little blonde boy in and pushed him a little more.
Eventually he was able to submerge his body, not his face, and holding him in my arms I would stretch out his arm and splash the water or spin him around. I could see his little fist opening as he began to explore the water himself.
After a couple of weeks he took his other fist out of his mouth to make way for the giant grin on his face.
On our final lesson, I took him into the water as usual. By now he had begun to take his fist out of his mouth when he would hear me call his name, and he would reach out to take my hand.
This final day he even walked down one step. As I walked, jumped and spun with him in the water I could hear small sounds of happiness from him.
Eventually I returned him to his teachers and took another waiting excited child.
As I played games with, and taught this other little boy I heard shouting. I looked over and the teachers were calling me. I went quickly towards them, afraid there had been some sort of accident. The three teachers were standing by the steps holding my little blondie by the hand.
They hurriedly took my young swimmer off me. Then with high pitched voices they explained to me that as they had walked my little blondie away from the pool, he had said loudly and clearly “Want Tric. Want Tric”. These were the first words they had ever heard him speak and they were in tears.
Up to this they were not even sure how much of what was spoken he understood. Now they knew he understood everything as he even knew my name.
Sadly I never saw any of them again. Cutbacks in school meant they no longer came to the pool. On more than one occasion I have wondered about them all, but in particular my small blonde, “non verbal” little boy.
I really hope he found another joy in his life which allowed him to find his voice.