In search of a real boy-The long road home.

2008

Like most parents I had excitedly booked a block of first swimming lessons for Evan. I had been pre warned by other mums  that there was a long waiting list so had put his name down over a year before when he was 3 to ensure he got a place.

However when the time finally came for the lessons to start I had to face the reality that it wasn’t going to be possible for Evan to learn to swim alongside his peers.

The instructor told me he felt Evan was unteachable.

He had no meaningful speech, couldn’t follow even basic one step instructions and although was very confident in water preferred to spend his time sitting on the bottom of the pool holding his breath rather than making any attempt to splash about with other children.

I was given a refund for the lessons.

I was absolutely heartbroken. I knew Evan was autistic,he had been diagnosed over a year before but I didn’t really know what it meant. He was my first and only child and although I knew his development was delayed, particularly his speech, I still didn’t really grasp the situation and hadn’t considered for one minute how his autism would impact on our daily lives.

Evan was obsessed with water.Taps,toilets,puddles, baths, showers, sinks, mop buckets, rivers, fountains, drains any water he could find.

He would turn on taps full blast, put his head in the toilet or run fully clothed at speed into the lake whenever he got a chance.


I was determined he would learn to swim.

I continued to take Evan to the pool every day. He was always at his happiest in water and going to the pool quickly became part of our daily routine (along with our daily 50 mile round trips to visit Tesco) Before long he had mastered a very basic doggy paddle.

By the age of 8 Evan had taught himself a crude version of all four strokes as a result of his daily visits to the pool and obsessive watching of youtube tutorials.

Aged 9 he started training with the North West disability squad. It was at this point we were told he would benefit from joining a swimming club.

So in February 2013  Evan  joined Cockermouth swimming club.

I was very wary of mentioning his difficulties, I wanted Evan to be seen and accepted for who he was. I was scared that people would underestimate him and not expect him to achieve.

When he turned up for his trial he wore his favorite large, bright green snorkel mask, he  didn’t know or care that he stood out he was just delighted to be there.

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It was a huge learning curve for him, he often struggled to understand.

We spent hours marching up and down the hall at home to show him why he had to wait till the person in front got to a certain point before he swam,we used Lego mini figures to explain races and tried to teach him how to be competitive.

We covered everything

When he got to swim at his first competition It took ages to explain to him he had to wear his club t-shirt pool side,then to explain he was not expected to swim in it!

I remember my heart was in my mouth as I left him at the changing room door as new places, smells, unfamiliar and unrehearsed situations were extremely challenging for Evan.

I couldn’t look when during the warm up he carried on swimming when everyone else had climbed out!

It wasn’t long before Evan was entering regular competitions.To prepare him we visited pools beforehand let him smell changing rooms and rehearsed as many conversations as possible so he would know how to respond.

Although I understood the challenges Evan faced and in many ways fully embraced them I really struggled to acknowledge and accept autism. I needed him to be good at something. I needed him to achieve. To be a real boy.

Swimming gave me that.

2016

Three years on Evan was doing fantastically. He had worked his way up to the top squad  ‘Crocodiles’ at club and was ranked in the top 6 in the county for most strokes at most distances. However he was really struggling.

Being a Crocodile meant not only that he was swimming with the best in the club but he was also expected to be able to take his heart rate, know his stoke count and be able to do math during a session. Evan learnt all the sets off by heart but struggled when they changed.As he was training 7 days a week he had no time to process and practice the things he found difficult. The wheels had started to come off and Evan sobbed for the entire journey home from training most nights.

Then one day after years of fighting to make Evan cope in the mainstream environment a throw away comment from someone who had no idea of the magnitude of Evans difficulties led to me the heartbreaking decision that perhaps I should get him classified  and let him swim as an S14  -a person with an intellectual disability.

The thing I had fought so hard to avoid.

I can’t lie.,that day, I died inside.

Swimming was the only thing I had. The only thing that autism hadn’t stolen.

I needed him to be a real boy. I had needed Evan to succeed mainstream.

2017

Evans classification came through in May and he swam at his first para competition in June.

Another boy fist bumped him at the blocks. Evan walked with a swagger.

He had come home.

He was always a real boy, I just didn’t know it.

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