August 1, 2011

Care for a Swim?

Posted in Life's Little Moments tagged , , , , at 9:15 am by autismmommytherapist

I slide the glass door gently back into place, and shimmering waves of heat greet me and Zach as we scurry across searing concrete to the water’s edge. He needs no encouragement to break the serene surface of our pool, whose liquid depths welcome us to temperatures reminiscent of bath water. I quickly drop our beach towels onto an empty lounge chair, and wade out three-quarters of the way into the shallow end just to rid myself of the sweat that’s accumulated during our five foot walk/run. I turn around just in time to see Zach descend the last step and plant his feet firmly on myriad shades of blue ceramic tile, hands on hips as he regards me from afar.

I urge him to “swim to me”, which up to this point has meant several consecutive paddles in a row accompanied by a face flatly refusing to immerse itself in chlorine. He smiles, thrusts his arms out before him with serious intent, flexes his feet, and uses the juncture of floor and step as leverage to propel himself toward me. Tiny pockets of air burst to freedom, heralding the arrival of a tow-headed boy who navigates most of the width of our pool underwater, a feat interrupted solely by my waiting arms as he embraces me. Zach plants himself on solid ground, wipes streams of water from his eyes and shouts, “I did it!  I swam just like Logan!”  It appears the child who’s been convinced all summer that anything more than a two-second immersion signifies imminent drowning is now swimming all of his own accord, simply because he saw his buddy do it two days before.

In other words, he’s acquired this new and vastly important skill simply because he wanted to imitate his friend.

We’ve tried this route before with other integral milestones, generally to no avail. With the guidance of his teacher the winter Zach turned three we attempted our first round of potty training, which ended after four weeks with his lovely educator practically begging us to abort and try again in the fall. We of course had included the requisite rewards as incentives to make deposits in our porcelain potties, and had trotted out various men and boys as role models to inspire him, but at the time, nothing worked.

He was also singularly unimpressed by watching his brother and father relieve themselves the “big boy way”, and equally unmoved by glimpses of his friends at school doing the same. Zach was quite content with the women in his life continuing to change his diaper, and equally happy to leave the men in his life to their own pursuits when it came to toilet habits. When it came to imitating his peers or the main males in his world, he couldn’t have cared less. This attitude has since extended to trying fruits, vegetables and any food group his mother has deemed particularly healthy as well.

Over the course of the past year I’ve seen this attitude shift and slowly disintegrate, making way for a child who’s eager to try new things that previously terrified him if he witnesses someone “cool” doing them first. This past month he expressed his desire to ride the roller coaster with Justin “like the big boys”, which now that he finally meets the height requirements, we allowed him to experience. He’s watched a friend from school scale the heights of a jungle gym with a relative ease, an activity that in the past had seemed completely daunting to my son. I’ve since watched him carefully calculate his chances at survival, vault the structure, and succeed in conquering it. On one particularly dare-devil morning he even permitted a “banana-pancake” to cross his lips, simply because his big brother had tried one. The fact that both slices of carb were subsequently rejected was irrelevant to the fact that at least both of my children had attempted a new food group.

Perhaps I’ll go crazy and try blueberries next. Maybe they will not offend.

This urge to mimic is momentous (of course, I may not think so when he’s a teen-ager), and I hope to continue capitalizing on it in the future. Maybe he’ll watch in admiration as his older brother walks his plate to the sink without being told a thousand times, and cart his own cutlery without my nagging. Perhaps now that playdates are occurring more easily, Zach will display a desire to clean up at their conclusion without prompting (I’ve been told that dream may be a bit unreasonable). As a converted “Skinnerian”, I am enthralled with the different ways I can use this new motivator to coax out more desirable behaviors down the road.

Who knows what could be next. After all, a few feet and a new milestone from our back door, a diving board beckons.