As a parent, one of the hardest things you’ll have to do is watch your child struggle. At the age of five, our son was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome. When he turned nine, at an attempt to have a “typical “birthday party, we invited 10 kids to come scuba diving. It was something most kids had not experienced at this young age, and having an extreme birthday party was the only way kids would come to our son’s birthday as he had no friends.
Our son quickly found comfort in the water. He didn’t have to talk to anyone, be close to anyone and the stimulation was very low.
“It’s wonderful Mom, it’s like someone is hugging me, but not touching me,” explained our son, who for seldom let us hug him, kiss him or hold his hand. And, he had friends for two hours that shared his world.
After that birthday party, our son knew that he wanted to grow up and live underwater. By the time he was 14 he was a certified diver and my husband took him to the Florida Keys to dive in the ocean. The pressure of the water felt good to him and the elimination of noises and stimulations vanished for the time he was underwater. Making water bubbles, swimming on his back, and gliding through the water with turtles and fish allowed our son too finally be at peace.
For all parents with an autistic child, we encourage you to try scuba diving. Search for PADI certified divers in your area and sign up. As described by Temple Grandin (1992), and her use of the “squeeze machine,” autistic children feel calm with weight pressing on them. Just like weighted blankets and caps, the water provided our son with that same sense of calmness. To watch him just float in the water while schools of fish dash around is something I’m compelled to share with others.
Now at the age of 17, our son is planning to be a Master Diver; and has a job cleaning a 16,000 gallon fish tank at a local store. “Sometimes it’s weird to have people staring at me (while in the tank), but everyone disappears from my mind once I start feeding the fish,” he says. He rushes home on Friday after school and drives to the store to submerge him from the stress of the week and be underwater until he is totally relaxed. Other kids talk to him now about working in the fish tank and admire him for being able to scuba for eight hours a week instead of working fast food jobs. The owners are teaching him a trade that could propel him further in life.
As a parent, don’t try to change your child to fit into our society, give them opportunities and skills that will help them excel in life being who they are. Whether scuba diving is tried as a hobby or a career, offer the gift of love through water and watch them explore.
Alice Kay is a mother of a 17-year-old son with Asperger’s. Alice Kay grew up in a family of nine and was very active with extracurricular activities. Wanting her son to “fit in” she involved him in many school and social activities only to find pain and disappointment. As a nurse, she had empathy for her son as he struggled with social acceptance. Now she proudly shares with other parents one activity that has made her family life fun and very enjoyable for all.
Grandin, T. PhD (1992). Calming Effects of Deep Touch Pressure in Patients with Autistic Disorder, College Students, and Animals. Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychopharmacology. 2(1).
This article was featured in Issue 33 – Let’s Get Moving and Stay Healthy