This summer I decided to buy an above ground pool to put in the backyard. I had never before bought a large one because my son, Emir, has been always scared of water and didn’t know how to swim. Even without noticing it, as has happened several times in his life, instead of giving him the opportunity, I was taking it away from him in my attempt to protect him.
Still, with plenty of fears about all the things that can happen when you buy a large pool for a house with young children who are not proficient in swimming, I forced myself to be optimistic. A couple of hours later, I put the pool together with the help of my son. We filled up the pool with water and summer officially started.
And just like that, I realized that opportunity builds ability.
In just a couple of weeks, Emir had overcome his fear of the water. Something interesting about the process though was that when I started sharing the big news with close friends, many of them congratulated us and immediately saw this as positive. Meanwhile, others warned me of the risks that were coming with him no longer fearing water. Someone even told me, “You should not have let him cross that line because now he is more likely than ever to have an accident in that pool.” This kind of comment comes with good intention but kills hope in seconds!
Regardless, and without accident or incident, summer kept advancing and finally, Emir learned how to swim. Literally, he became a fish in the water. I am not sure, though, what kind of fish he is because his style is unique; however, he is free, he is happy, and he has learned a new ability that allows him to enjoy moments that use to paralyze him.
The whole experience made me reflect on many things and think about how opportunity builds ability.
Of course, I thought of inclusion and how we deprive our children of it based on fears and our own limitations. As it happened with Emir and the pool, many times as parents we deny our children of an opportunity thinking they don’t have the ability to ever learn to swim, when literally, sometimes all that they need is to jump in the pool and have the chance to use their own tools.
There are so many excuses that deprive our children with special needs the chance to jump in the pool and one of the most popular is: They are not ready yet! In truth, they may never get ready unless they have the opportunity to challenge their own selves by having the right supports, the guidance, and patience required for their personal efforts.
We must, first and foremost, provide the pool and then, if necessary, help them get in it.
Many times we will need to build it on our own and give them time to get used to it. There is no miracle pool, instead, there is the miracle of consistency, repetition, and motivation to help them feel ready to swim at their own pace and with their personal abilities. Finally, we have to learn to celebrate their unique ways to swim, to communicate, to interact with others, and how to learn about the world, because perfection should never be the goal. The real goal should always be to help them gain a new ability that will support them to be more independent and more productive in this world.
The whole experience reminded me of the way in which many parents used to teach their children to swim in the past. They would literally throw us in the pool and step back, close enough to give us a hand if needed, but far enough to let us learn to use our survival instincts along with our unique abilities.
Sometimes, as parents of children with special needs, it is really hard to throw our children into the pool, and it may never be as effective as it could be with typical children because there are many more challenges. However, there are ways to help them get in as we support them and believe in their ability to learn how to swim; even though, it may take longer and look different than what we expect.