Swimming has been one of the hardest things I've done with Abacus. It's not so much the swimming part she has trouble with - she loves the water - I think it's the alien nature of having a one on one class in the water that stresses her out. With her music therapist Pip, she has had little freak outs when she has tried to run away, or tried to pack up Pip's gear to end the session early (!) but she is still in her own house, and better yet on dry ground where she can run away. In the pool she can only grip her finger nails into flesh - mine.
Toward the end of the first lesson we were starting to make a breakthrough, she'd spent the first half of the lesson crying and clinging into me and not wanting to look at her instructor, but she was starting to warm to it and do some of the drills, if only to get a cuddle as a reward, when a wayward water volleyball smacked her right in the side of the face! and that was the end of that session :(
The next week I'm not sure if she stopped crying the whole lesson. She did some of the drills, while crying and spluttering water which caused her to cry and scream and splutter more. I don't want her to shrink away from challenges though, as much as it pains me to see her stressed, I know she can do it and I know it is the situation that she's anxious about, but we want to try to normalise these environments, especially with school fast approaching. We're there to support her, but she doesn't get to run away.
The next week I stayed for an extra 45 minutes after the lesson to go over the drills with her. As with every other week the moment her instructor says the words "Ok we're finished", her anxiety is gone as though she had enjoyed the whole thing and is excited for the next week. She high 5's him and says "thank you!", she's even taken to mimicking his double thumbs ups. With the stress of the lesson over she completed every drill with me without a fuss. She even went down the water slide over and over - she had gone down once reluctantly with the instructor and cried at the bottom refusing to go on it again - it was meant to be her fun reward! Outside of the lesson though she loved it. She climbed out of the pool herself and jumped in, she kicked and blew bubbles, she floated around by herself on a flutterboard/kickboard and almost floated on her back (A manoeuvre that invokes a Koala grip cuddle during her lesson).
But last week was a break through. Her instructor set up a bunch of water toys around the pool and started her off pouring water into waterwheel and having fun. It was the first time I'd seen her smiling and happy to see her instructor. And while throughout the lesson there were moments of shying away, they didn't last for long. She did everything required of her to the best of her ability and was rewarded by a few minutes of playtime. She swam under a bar that forced her to go under water, she ran and leapt into the pool off a foam board, blew bubbles, kicked - in her own special take on kicking and floated like a star fish.
It was awesome.