When my son was diagnosed, I never suspected that my child still had motor delays. Sure, he did everything late; he rolled over at 8 months, crawled at 11 months, walked at 16 months, and seemingly skipped other motor milestones like cruising, but he was walking. So, when Jack’s developmental pediatrician told me that my son had significant motor delays – that he was testing in the 2nd to 3rd percentiles in gross motor development – I was shocked and instantly thrust into a new world for us in terms of therapy – physical therapy.
Dr. DP also had some insight. He knew that Jack’s sensory processing dysfunction was one of his biggest challenges and it was he who suggested that we try aquatic physical therapy.
The more I looked into it, it really made sense. The warmth of the water helps his muscles to relax. The buoyancy in the water allows my baby to move in ways that his hypotonia normally would not. Most importantly, the water serves a sensory integration purpose. Although we might not notice it when slipping into our favorite swimming spot, the weight of the water serves to provide input to our bodies. We feel warmth, resistance, and even a bit of pressure under the density of the water that surrounds us. Maybe that’s why slipping into a warm bath is so calming after a long day.
New prescription in hand, we headed off to find an aquatic physical therapist. We found one, a wonderful gal who admittedly had not treated many kids on the spectrum, but was willing to learn and try over and over again to reach my boy. Her effort was the reason why we kept at it for the past year and will continue to do so. Even though some sessions were rough and a bit less than therapeutic – or not therapeutic at all – she kept trying, and we started seeing very, very slow progress.
One year into that first aquatic PT session and I entered the doors of the municipal pool that our therapist uses for sessions. The sign was small, innocuous, and easy to miss. It said that the pool would be closed for 3 months.
I asked Jack’s PT where we would go. Her company had gotten a temporary contract with a local gym, so we would have a place for therapy. Sessions would thankfully go on.
But 3 months? A location change? I felt that unease for my boy that so many of us begin to feel when approaching transitions with our children.
Me being more of a runner than a gal who hangs out at the gym, I really didn’t know what to expect, which is why I was taken aback at the new pool. There was music pumping in from every which way, and not the soothing Bob Marley that my boy loves but workout jams. The pool area was adorned with pennants and all manner of visual stimulation. The kids were only given two lanes in which to have therapy sessions, neither of which had stairs or a lift. For my boy, whose goals include going up and down stairs, this was a big setback.
The biggest problem was the water. The water which normally was so blissfully warm was a frigid wake-up call to the kids and therapists alike. It’s one thing to spend time in a cool pool for a 20-30 minute workout, but it’s another to spend an hour-long therapy session in the cold water. The other kids were crying and upset. My boy was as well, but he couldn’t express his displeasure with the water temperature. The blue of his lips gave away just how cold he was, even if his body wouldn’t register it and his voice couldn’t speak it.
It was a long 3 months. Even after figuring out that the pool heater was broken 1 month into our temporary refuge at the gym, we still suffered through the cold, the noise, and the lack of accommodations to work on Jack’s goals. There were sessions full of screaming in which Jack’s PT had to bring him out of the pool to me to try to calm him down. I would stand there at the poolside, trying to help my boy as he attempted to kick me, hit me, and bang his head against the concrete floor. It was all more than he could process.
Imagine my delight when I was told that the old pool would be reopening and we were moving back! The first day back at the municipal pool, I made a big deal about where we were going. ”We’re going to the old pool, Jack! We’re going swimming with Ms. PT at the old pool!” In reality, I think I was just so psyched that I needed to remind myself of the wonder of it all, but that’s okay. Comprehension or not, I wanted to share with Jack my reassurance that it was about to be better.
But it wasn’t. Of course, renovations bring change, too.
The municipal pool looked brand new. The walls were a blinding sterile white color and the once dim lighting was replaced by wall-to-wall rows of bright florescent lights. For a child who screams “Off!” when the overhead lighting is on at home, you can imagine that he was not impressed by the brighter ambiance. The old benches were replaced by benches/air-handlers. Seriously. The benches emit a dull roar as they move the air and remove excess moisture from the air.
The first day back at the old pool was challenging, to say the least. While there were only a handful of other people in the pool that first day, my boy spent the majority of that session as he had the last couple of months – screaming, kicking, and crying.
We’re working to help him make the transition back in any way that we can. Our PT had the good idea of putting tinted goggles on him to dim the light level. We’re working slowly to make him comfortable with the goggles touching his face. I’ve put a new focus on brushing and joint compressions just before sessions. His PT is easing him into the pool each session ever so slowly, giving him the time he needs, letting him make the first tentative steps into the water, and following his lead. She’s incorporating his natural interest – letters – into sessions by using foam bath letters as motivators. So far, it hasn’t eliminated the meltdowns, but it’s helping.
We’ll keep our fingers crossed that there will be no more renovations at his “old pool” anytime soon, because aquatic PT has been so beneficial to my boy. We will keep working to make him more comfortable at the pool and ease him back into the routine of his aquatic physical therapy.