I am honoured to have a short story included in this anthology. It is out on 8th May. Edited by Tanya Shadrick and Rachel Playforth. Cover design by Neil Gower. Published by Pells Pool Lewes and Frogmore Press.
I teach several children who are on the autistic spectrum. Although they are very different each one is delightful and I enjoy teaching them very much. Statistics show that there is an appallingly high incidence of drowning in autistic children. This terrible situation may be because they tend wander off by themselves and like most children they are often fascinated by water. It may also be because it is more difficult for them to be accepted into mainstream swimming lessons and so they are less likely to learn to swim although there is absolutely no reason on earth why these children shouldn’t swim as well as anyone else. In fact for a child who is usually extra sensitive to noise, environment, touch, everything, the water can be a deeply calming and relaxing environment. These children need to learn to swim more not less than other children. It may even save their lives.
One of the children I am teaching is an adorable, funny, charming, gentle five year old, who was actually turned away from mainstream swimming lessons (they gave his mum her money back). He was afraid of the water at first and his Mum told me that he didn’t like to have his hair washed or go in the shower. He doesn’t like to wear a swimming hat or goggles, which is completely fine, neither do I really, and we spend most of the lessons playing while his confidence in the water is increasing dramatically.
One of the games I get all the children I teach to play is ‘sea creatures’. They have to pretend to be a creature you might find in the sea and I or the other children have to guess what it is. This little boy liked the game but he wanted me to be the creature. He asked me to be a walrus, a blue whale, a white whale, a killer whale and finally and most challenging for me a wave.
I told him I didn’t really know how to be a wave so he showed me and for the first time and with no hesitation dived under the water and swam to me. His technique needs some refinement, but his mum could not believe that he happily submerged his whole body in the water and came up smiling.
It was raining that day and the pool was an outdoor one. After the rain the sky turned an unusual sandy yellow colour as evening approached.
My little swimmer looked up in wonder and said
I could see what he meant.
Another little girl who came to me during the summer saw a pigeon in a tree nearby and exclaimed.
Afterwards I wondered if she meant ‘seagull’ as we were by the water but I am not sure. She was delighted by it anyway.
Another little boy counts his lessons in the number of trains that pass on the nearby train track. Like many children on the autistic spectrum he loves trains. If he has had a really good lesson he sometimes asks if he can stay ‘for twenty trains’. But unfortunately the lesson only lasts for ten.
It is just wonderful for me to watch as the children grow in confidence in the water and the other day I had the greatest compliment when the mother of a twelve year old I teach told me that the boy himself had recommended me to his physiotherapist. I don’t think I could really ask for greater affirmation.
“Water is the commonest symbol for the unconscious. The lake in the valley is the unconscious, which lies, as it were, underneath consciousness, so that it is often referred to as the ‘subconscious,’ usually with the pejorative connotation of an inferior consciousness. Water is the ‘valley spirit,’ the water dragon of Tao, whose nature resembles water- a yang in the yin, therefore, water means spirit that has become unconscious.” (Carl Jung, CW 9i, para 40)
Helen Adams Keller (June 27, 1880 – June 1, 1968) was an American author, political activist and lecturer. Helen was born a perfectly normal healthy child but when she was 19 months old, she contracted an illness which left her unable to see or hear.
She did develop some ability to communicate with her family using signs but it was very limited.
When she was seven years old her family appointed a governess, Anne Sullivan, who immediately started to try to teach Helen to communicate by spelling words on to her hand. Anne Sullivan tried to teach her the to spell out words such as d o l l and m u g, but Helen could not understand that every object had its own unique word. It was only when Anne took Helen outside to the pump and ran water over her hands spelling out the word w a t e r, that Helen began to understand what her teacher was trying to do.
“Suddenly I felt a misty consciousness as of something forgotten–a thrill of returning thought; and somehow the mystery of language was revealed to me. I knew then that “w-a-t-e-r” meant the wonderful cool something that was flowing over my hand.
I learned a great many new words that day.
Gradually from naming an object we advance step by step until we have traversed the vast distance between our first stammered syllable and the sweep of thought in a line of Shakespeare”
Water and an inspired teacher, it seemed were the keys that unlocked her closed world. She went on to become a prolific speaker, writer, social activist and campaigner.