I started working with siblings Myles and Hannah 6 years ago. They were 11 and 12 and are Autistic. Our Aquatic Therapy sessions were weekly, and were a combination of swimming skills with a huge focus on developing coordination, improved focus, self-regulate and fine and gross motor skills and strength. Often our early sessions were cut short as Myles, in particular, got so frustrated he had to leave the pool. He just could not cope with not getting it right.
I made the sessions fun, physically challenging with a sprinkling of skills being taught. Progress was slow but it was there. We usually had our sessions when no one else was at the pool. This was very beneficial because Myles in particular did not like being watched by others.
As they got older and taller, my cosy indoor pool just wasn’t long enough anymore. We found a 25-meter in-ground pool that a neighbour had in their back yard, so we moved our sessions there. It was not enclosed so we could only work in the summer months. Summer in the Northern Rivers can be very wet and often Myles and Hannah swam in the rain. It was at this stage I no longer was in the water with them. They graduated to having me on the pool deck which changed the dynamic yet again.
In 2018 Myles and Hannah felt confident enough to compete in their school swimming carnival. They both had to deal with the noise, the starters signals, the blocks, the yelling of their friends all watching them, remember what they had been learning and them execute on-demand, a fast swim. They finished their race, came last and that was that. However, it seemed to light a spark and Myles’s competitive edge started to show. He wanted to keep working with me so he could compete again next year. With Hannah also on board, we got busy in the pool for another 12 months.
We secured regular lane space at an indoor, all year round, 25-meter pool which they had to travel 45 minutes to each way. We continued 1 day a week. So, in 2019 the school carnival came around again and they both competed in several events each this time. They both made it through to the regional competition in breaststroke. This was very exciting as this was the step before Sydney – the State Championships. However, they were both disqualified in their only race. It seemed a lack of focus, or distraction or the sensory overload may have been just too much and all their learning seemed to unravel. There was huge disappointment all around.
To their credit, they rose up and decided to go again….. in their next school carnival. They lined up again in 2020 having continued to train when they could, 1 day a week. This time they had massive success. They were dealing much better with the sensory overload, they knew what to expect and the noise and friends watching them turned into a motivating factor. They both got through to Sydney this year.
Myles in 50 freestyle, backstroke and breaststroke and Hannah in 50 and 100 freestyle and 50 backstroke and breaststroke. Pure elation. They were walking so proud. However, Covid – 19 stopped them from going to Sydney that year. Pure disappointment.
I thought that would be the end of my time with Myles and Hannah and would they really want to try a 4th time? They had time off and then decided they would try again. They were now 16 and 17 and it’s 2021.
Again, they made it through to Sydney for the State Championships – Multiclass and this year we were going. Myles had made it through in 50 backstroke, which was his least favourite stroke and Hannah would swim in the 50 backstrokes and the 100 freestyle. Because Myles didn’t really like backstroke we had not worked on it very much to this point. He struggled to go straight and avoid the lane ropes and he would often hit his head on the wall at the finish. We put in strategies and techniques which Myles implemented into his backstroke race which made it easier for him to execute. Even his backstroke start was a little different but still legal.
Competing in Sydney was not just about the race. Myles and Hannah had to cope with flying, unfamiliar surroundings, lack of routine, the enormous Homebush Aquatic Centre with its busyness, noise and smells. The Marshalling area was another area that Myles and Hannah had no experience of and had to negotiate that step in their competition on their own. Then they had to calm themselves enough to race. To go straight. To avoid the lane ropes. To not hit their head. And to go as fast as they could. And they did all of it, in a state of flow.
Myles came 7th out of 12 and Hannah came 5th out of 8. And they are still walking so proud.