Learning to Swim, Socially

February 8, 2011

by Dan Coulter

When I was little, I almost drowned.  

   On summer days, I’d go to a community pool with the kids from the neighborhood.  One day, before I learned to swim, I found myself past the rope with floats that marked the deep water.  I stepped in the wrong direction and my head slipped below the surface.  

   The fact that I didn’t panic probably has something to do with the fact that I have Asperger Syndrome.  My brain has always been pretty logical and I tend to stay calm in emergencies.  
I sank to the bottom of the pool and pushed up with my toes. I could manage just enough force to get my head above the water and take a quick breath before sinking again.   I couldn’t stay up long enough to call for help.

   Scared, but still in control, I started working my way toward the side of the pool, one underwater hop at a time.  Finally, I was able to reach out and grab a metal pool ladder and pull myself out.    

   I see this incident as a metaphor for having Asperger Syndrome. 

   I wasn’t diagnosed until I was an adult, but when I look back, I see that I did a lot of compensating.  Some of it worked out fine.   But in other areas, if I’d known the reason I had to compensate, I could have done better.

   For example, like many people with Asperger Syndrome, I have a difficult time remembering people’s names.  I sometimes compensated in junior high and high school by avoiding talking with people I didn’t know well so I wouldn’t embarrass myself.  This tactic worked to some extent, but it could make me appear stuck up.

   It would have been better if I could have just admitted my memory problems and worked through them.  Later in life, I started using rhyming tricks to help me remember names.

   As parents, we owe it to our children with Asperger Syndrome to work hard to understand just how difficult things can be for them.   When I was a kid, I can promise you that there were social skills I absolutely could not master by simply trying harder, just like I couldn’t swim by trying harder in that pool. 

   It’s a good start to really listen to our children, and appreciate that just telling them how to interact can be the equivalent of telling them how to swim and throwing them in the deep end.  We need to help them find practical ways to compensate for, or overcome, their challenges – and appreciate that this may take time and effort.

   Not everyone can be a great swimmer, but almost anyone can learn the basics.  

   From my experience, social skills training can help children with Asperger Syndrome do a lot more than keep their heads above the water socially.

   And we’re all already in the pool.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Dan Coulter is the producer of the DVD, “Manners for the Real World: Basic Social Skills.”  You can find more articles on his website: coultervideo.com.

Copyright 2011  Dan Coulter     All Rights Reserved    Used By Permission

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