Saturday afternoon, it was raining, traffic was bad, and Alphonse was grouchy. We were running a bit late; no matter how hard the nannies coaxed him, he simply did not want to take a bath. It took his dad and a lot of hand-over-hand prompting to get him bathed and both emerged from the bathroom wet, Alphonse fresh from the shower, his dad soggy with sweat.
To make things worse, when we got to the center, Alphonse refused to get out of the car! It was pouring rain outside and not all of us had umbrellas so I got wet, his dad a little too. Teacher Levin had one hand on a large umbrella for Alphonse; his other hand was trying to hold on to the squirmy young man in the back seat. Alphonse kept trying to close the door on us, even as we tried to ask him to come down on his own. After a while, the coaxing turned into useless begging and pleading (we should have known it wouldn’t work at all). The only solution: push him out on one side as another set of hands pulled him out. It was messy, but it worked.
Out of the car, Alphonse suddenly seemed deflated. I was worried that he might not enjoy the session. Apparently, just one skipped session makes a lot of difference in his attitude (Teacher Levin was sick the week before). But no sooner had he reached the pool area did I hear soft grunts turn into booming shouts of pleasure. Alphonse, for all his reticence, suddenly remembered that he was going to do something he already loved- water play!
The minutes ticked slowly, too slowly for me, it seemed. I popped my head a few times to peek but Alphonse would catch me each time. I had to withdraw lest he decide to leave the water to seek me. Now and then, I could hear distinct grumblings of disapproval as Alphonse bucked being told what to do. In the last fifteen minutes of the hour, however, the pool area turned quiet. I strained to hear what was going on but the only sounds I could make were the splashes of water. Later, when Alphonse emerged wet but dressed, holding on to his going home card, he seemed introspective, reflective, and deep in thought.
Teacher Levin pulled me aside for a quick update before I ran to the car. Alphonse, in the last fifteen minutes of the session, trusted his teacher enough to allow him to carry his full weight. And then, as Teacher Levin gently swayed Alphonse in the water, Alphonse allowed himself again to be laid out in the water, supine, arms stretched. They did this over and over again, and Alphonse did not resist, allowing himself to be swayed and bouyed only by his teacher’s strong arms and the gentle splashing of the warm water.
His teacher calls it a “game changer,” and despite my reluctance to pour my hopes on one session (because I might jinx us again, God have mercy on us), I am inclined to believe that something connected inside Alphonse’s head that day. On the way home, the sullenness had magically disappeared and had turned into little girly shrieks of joy. We all said a prayer of thanks for the gift those fifteen minutes gave him and us.
In autism, as in life, it’s difficult to predict what will work and what will not. Often, because we are afraid of change that can disrupt and upset our lives, our balance, our equanimity, we choose to go with what we already know. But sometimes, we all have to learn to let go and just let God steer the wheels of our lives. I think that’s what happened in those last fifteen minutes.
That, I believe, is the game changer.