Monday, June 23, 2014

Facing our Fears

We've all heard time and again that we need to face our fears. Everyone has fears, whether they want to admit it or not. I decided to search google for some words of inspiration about fears. Here's some good ones that I found:

Yes, we all know this. We have to face what we fear before we will ever get over them. They will be fears until we overcome them. Makes sense. Easier said than done.

Again, this is true. Our weaknesses can also be fears, and once we conquer them, we are stronger than we imagined. This next one caught my eye:


Very clever, wouldn't you say? Which one sounds better to you, running from your fears, or facing them? Obviously, facing them does. We don't want to be thought of as cowards, right? But what if our fears looked like this?

Now I'm pretty sure that little bird is deathly afraid of snakes. But look at her, facing her fear like a brave little champion. We know this would never happen--it goes against the laws of nature. Of course a bird will flee her prey, her biggest fear. But humans, they should be able to face any fear, right? They have the capacity to overcome any obstacle, as long as they give it their very best.
Now take that sentence and apply it to a child with autism, sensory issues, and anxiety, and what do you get? Something very similar to that little bird coming face to face with a deadly snake. Each child with special needs has different fears. And Julianna is no exception. Over her 10 years of life she has face a few fears, fears that have brought her to her breaking point, where she literally looked fear in the eye and conquered, fears that would not even be considered fears to most children. First, she learned to toilet train. And second, she learned to ride a two-wheeled bike. These two accomplishments were ones that for a long time, I had almost given up hope on. I thought given her special needs, she just wouldn't be able to do it. But she did, after much effort, pain, and courage. It has taught me that if I continue to push her past her breaking point, she will succeed.
However, there is one particular fear of hers that I have not forced her to face head on, until now:
Swimming. It's been on the back burner for years. She took lessons for the first time at around 5 years old, and we began to notice how much she hated getting water in her face, or her ears. We of course took her swimming many times before that, but never official lessons until that point. I began to see that the typical group swimming lesson was not going to work for her. Blake was the complete opposite, and loved the water.
So the next couple years, we continued to expose her to swimming when we could; at friends' houses, swimming pools, etc, but no progress was made. And then she turned 8 years old, and was to be baptized a member of our church, which she wanted to do, and we were very proud of her. But seeing her get baptized, and go fully under the water was a big testament to us how deeply rooted her fears of swimming were. It took her a long time to calm down, her body was shaking uncontrollably, and she was crying nonstop. It was then that I realized we needed to do something to help her overcome this fear.
Just a few months later, when I was homeschooling her through a charter, I learned that I could some of the money for her education on extra curricular activities. And I of course chose swimming lessons. Because we were getting free money to pay for the lessons, I decided to do private lessons at an indoor pool, once a week. I thought for sure this would solve the problem. I informed the swimming facility about her background, and they tried to find the right person to teach her. And I thought it went okay, for the most part. She made progress, in small ways. Working one on one with someone was much better than learning in a group, in a crowded pool. But I knew she was still scared.
When the charter money ran out, and school was out for the year, I liked the swimming lessons so much that we decided to continue them, but in a small group (we could not afford private!) We hoped that Blake would be in her class, but he was too advanced, so she had to be in a class with most kids half her age. We pressed forward, hoping that exposing her more often now, twice a week, would make the difference for her. It did in small ways, but I still felt like no one was really pushing her past her limit. I knew this was the only way she would learn to swim.

We tried to be happy with the little progress she made in doing swim lessons for many months, and thought about what we could do next summer. It would be more challenging, because our baby would be born in December. After his birth, I decided to join a local gym, and they had an indoor pool. So last summer, I took her and Blake to the pool in the evenings with me so I could help her learn to swim. I felt like no one else had been able to do it yet, so maybe it was supposed to be me. I made her a picture chart with the skills we would be working on, and she was very excited that I was going to be her swimming teacher. I began to see a little bit more progress. She would actually stay in the water floating on a noodle instead of gripping me. She would try to blow bubbles and do strokes. But she still would not go under the water to swim. Despite the many hours I spent with her last summer, we had not reached her goal. Her fears were still as strong as ever, and I had no idea what to do next.
Flash foward to a few months ago. I heard from a friend that a recent high school graduate from our church was offering private, one-hour swim lessons in her pool. I liked this idea a lot. And thankfully, this girl was willing to teach Julianna after doing a "trial" lesson with her. We decided that for each of the 8, 1-hour lessons, we would focus on one or two skills she needed to learn that would naturally progress into her learning to swim on her own. I know it sounds like a huge leap for her, but she's 10 now. I want to put this fear behind her. I am finally forcing her to face it, head on. I am tired of bringing her to pools where she just watches her friends swim, and sits on the side of the pool with me, or won't go past the shallow end. And the only reason I am doing this to her comes down to this:
I knew she could learn to toilet train. I knew she could learn to ride a bike. These challenges did not come without many, many tears, but after the tears, the fear went away. And today was no different. This young lady spent almost 40 minutes trying to get Julianna to simply put her face in the water, the first step in the process. She used a kickboard, and told her to put touch her forehead to the board, over and over, and slowly lowered it into the water, until Julianna actually put her face in, just a little bit. I've never seen her do that before, even that little bit, on her own. But that wasn't enough. I knew she could do more, and her swim teacher does, too. I told Julianna, do you want me to put your face in the water, or your teacher? And she said, my teacher. So this young lady counted to three, and tried pushing Julianna's face in the water, but Julianna became so rigid and tense that her neck would not move. So she took her to the deeper end and she let Julianna fall into the water, almost underneath, and lifted her right back out again. Julianna was shaking, crying, and scared, but we both talked to her, and told her how proud we were that she let her whole face touch the water. It was hard for me to see her like this, because I know how scared she really was, but I had to tell myself that the only way she will learn to swim is by facing the biggest fear of her life! She's going to be scared, until she's not anymore.
I don't know what the next two weeks of swimming lessons holds for Julianna, but I will be sure to keep you updated. What I do know is I now have a swim teacher who is just as determined as me to get Julianna to swim. And what I do know is that this might be even worse than potty training was, seeing her go through this. But in the end, we will all come out victorious, or at least a lot closer. Why am I making Julianna face her biggest fear of her life? Not because I'm mean, or uncaring, or insensitive. One answer, and I will say it again:

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