Jack has been in aquatic physical therapy for almost a year now. It is the most recent therapy we’ve added and we definitely see a benefit. Believe me, those angry kicks in the gut during diaper changes hurt much more now than they did a year ago!
I guess that wishing for Jack to gain more strength so that he can walk farther on his own without being carried may have back-fired on me. Just goes to show that you should be careful what you wish for…you might just get it.
I agree with Jack’s developmental pediatrician that there is no way he would have done land-based physical therapy. He’s simply all over the place. In the water, there’s only so far he can go unassisted. He now does 30 minutes weekly of land-based physical therapy at school, but I see the most benefit from the hour in the water.
The water. Jack has a love/hate relationship with the water. We’ve oscillated from periods of relative happiness with the water to months of all-out screaming, kicking, flailing, yelling, crying meltdowns that leave both Jack and this mama spent.
However, I really do not believe that the problem lies with the water itself, but rather all of the stuff that comes with the water. For example, bath time is particularly pleasant because of Jack’s intense tactile sensitivity. So, no face washing, no washcloths, and absolutely no foamy soaps. We tried introducing bath foam (it looks like shaving cream). He screamed like we were suggesting that he put his hand into boiling water. We thought, maybe it’s the color and smell of the foam (it was pink and cherry-scented)? So, we tried just good-old-fashioned (and cheap!) shaving cream. No dice, my friends. It’s just the foam. Soap can’t get too foamy or bubbly, either, or else it sets him off.
Now, when we get to the municipal pool where Jack does PT, we’re getting into a whole new set of problems. One, the pool isn’t just used by kids with special needs. Oh no, that would be too easy and convenient for us, now wouldn’t it? Instead, there are not one, but two swimming classes for toddlers/preschoolers that occur at the same time. Also, the instructional pool is used for water aerobics for senior citizens. So, at any given time, my child has to process, stay regulated, and filter out the noise coming from about 30 other children and adults in the pool.
Not to mention the parents sitting on the side.
If that gargantuan task was not enough, the municipal pool is indoors. Yes, we’re talking an indoor pool with all of the funky acoustics and air handlers that go with it. Every noise reverberates off of the walls and ceilings, and I know that if I notice the noise level, Jack certainly does.
The water in and of itself is rather soothing, actually. If you think about it, water is a great source of deep pressure input. The constant contact of the water is calming. In an indoor pool like the one Jack’s PT uses, the water temperature is kept at a nice and even 80 degrees, providing a lovely, warm atmosphere to gently soothe our children.
Oh, but the noise! The activity level! The kids moving everywhere! It’s too much…it’s much too much!
We haven’t gotten it down to an exact science, and goodness knows we’re constantly tweaking our methods, but we’ve come up with a pretty good sensory regimen prior to Jack getting in the water to help him stay regulated and focused on the task at hand – which is compliance with his therapeutic program.
First, and this is before anything else, I put his headphones on him. I find that bringing him into the pool with the headphones on helps block out the noise level initially so that he doesn’t experience the same level of anxiety. Now, there’s no way I’m letting him wear his expensive noise-canceling headphones in the water, but at least I can help ease the transition into the pool area.
Second, we do our brushing and joint compressions. Jack seems to respond well to brushing, or at least he doesn’t mind it and we’ve seen no ill effects. I sit him on a bench, headphones still on, and we brush. And brush. And brush. And brush. The parents with typical children always stare at this ritual as though I must be insane for looking like I’m sloughing off my kid’s skin with a surgical scrub brush, but if you’ve never felt one, they’re really quite soft and gentle. Then we do the joint compressions, or what I call “squishees”.
Then we cross our fingers, because it’s out of my hands.
Once his PT takes him, she wraps him in a compression wrap. Once my kid looks like he’s mummified on his stomach and torso, then it’s finally time to get in the water.
Like I said, it’s a ritual. Sometimes it’s enough. Sometimes, it’s not. Short of banning every other kid from the pool area during my child’s PT session, I’ll never be able to control the noise level. I’ve toyed with the idea of earplugs, but he won’t let me anywhere near his ears even on good days. Just ask the audiologist who got a screaming roundhouse kick to the gut when she tried to run a routine screening on him.
However, the days when Jack is just “there” and really staying regulated, you can just see the look on his face. He loves the water. He’ll spread his mouth wide into one of the smiles he’s so famous for, one in which the world is a simply a wonderful place. He’ll flap his hands in the way he does when he’s just filled with overwhelming joy. He cannot say it, but the look about him simply says, “I was meant to be here. This feels good. This feels right.”
It’s amazing to see that transformation from a little boy who is so fidgety and anxious at the water’s edge to one who just beams with the relief and pleasure of being in the water. He’s only 3 and he has a long way to go before he can do anything that even resembles swimming independently, even with a floatation device, but I can see the water being a part of his life in the future. We’re lucky that the company that does Jack’s aquatic physical therapy also assists with an adaptive swim team. I can see Jack finding a place there and enjoying the water for years to come.