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I am an Autistic person,not a person with autism. I am also not Aspergers. The diagnosis isn't even in the DSM anymore, and yes, I agree with the consolidation of all autistic spectrum stuff under one umbrella. I have other issues with the DSM.

I don't like Autism Speaks. I'm Disabled, not differently abled, and I am an Autistic activist. Self-advocate is true, but incomplete.

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MLA: Zisk, Alyssa Hillary. "Post Title." Yes, That Too. Day Month Year of post. Web. Day Month Year of retrieval.

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Thursday, October 13, 2016

My fear is not of water.

Written at a poetry workshop at my university's gender and sexuality center. The prompt was a first memory of a swimming pool/body of water. 

My fear is not of water.

I know my mother took me to the JCC when I was a baby,
Held my head above the water and let me bounce and splash.
But that's not what I remember.

You shall teach your child the ten commandments and how to swim
They wrote above the door.
She taught me how to swim, a little.
Watched me in the pool as I bounced and splashed and swam underwater.
But that's not what I remember.

My first distinct memory of water, I am in a lake.
Swimming lessons, I am three,
Too strong a swimmer for the pre-school classes and placed with the kindergartners.
We sit in a circle in the lake.
Suddenly, it matters that I am smaller than my classmates.
I am not tall enough to sit and keep my head above water.
I gasp. I stand. I cry and leave.
My fear is not of water, but of adults telling me it is safe for me to sit,
Then discovering, gasping, that they are wrong.

I don't return to the lesson.
I do drag my mother back to the water with me.
My fear is not of water.

My next distinct memory of water, I am at my grandfather's pool. I think I am eight.
We splash each other, shoot each other with water guns.
I pull myself up on the floating mattress, laughing.
He sits. On my head. He doesn't know I'm there.
I stare up at him, trying not to panic.
I can hold my breath for one minute.
That's one minute to get out.
I can reach the edges of the mattress with my arms.
I pull with my arms and my neck.
My head pops free. I can breathe.
My fear is not of water, but of adults who want only the best for me,
Hurting me because of what they do not know.

I still join swim team, in high school,
Pass out into the pool the first time I swim the 200 medley.
Swim the medley again at league championships, repeating to myself:
Butter, back, breast, free, don't pass out.
My fear is not of water.

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  1. I too developed a fear of being in water situations as a kid do to things adults did. Only, in my case, it was a special ed teacher, Ms. F. (ironically, one of my favorite ones from that school) who literally grabbed me by the leg, ducked me underwater, and then lavishly praised me with "You went under!! That was super!!". And yes, that quote is verbatim. And no, Ms. F. I did not "go under". You fucking ducked me.
    Needless to say, I was more than a little confused when I later read in "On the Banks of Plum Creek" by Laura Ingalls Wilder that Laura got punished by Pa Ingalls with the same maneuver Ms. F. used on me in an attempt to teach me to go underwater.
    I now realize that what Ms. F. did was an "errorless learning" prompt of the type often lauded by ABA specialists.
    Add to this incident the fact that I got carried away by a wave and had to be rescued by teachers on a beach field trip once, I became afraid of the water.
    Special ed teachers did nothing to help me get over this fear; in fact, they once punished me at a swimming lesson by kicking me out of the pool in disgrace and docking points when I refused, out of fear, to swim a length across the pool without a kick board, because that would have required me going to the deep end without a flotation device - although I had by then learned to put my head underwater without needing to hold my nose due to swimming lessons at the Y I had before, I still was deathly afraid of the deep end. And I got punished for that.
    The same swim teacher at the Y, Mike, whom I had been taking lessons with at the time, helped me to get over my fear. And he wasn't even trained specifically to deal with special needs kids. He just made jokes that validated my fear and stayed by my side.
    Why couldn't my special ed teachers have been the same way? Oh, that's right. It's because they buy into the ABA bullshit of "not allowing the kid to escape demands" and assuming that kids who refuse to behavior are "manipulative" and that any negative emotions that cause it are "inappropriate" and should not have any bearing on the behavior anyway.

  2. Oh jeez that sounds super traumatic. I'm sorry all that happened!

    (However, I super meant it that my fear is not of water. It did not generalize even a little bit to water situations. I stayed out of the water for all of ten minutes after I was sat on, would have swum my part of the 200 freestyle relay even after passing out except that they rightly didn't let me, and generally needed to be ordered out of pools, lakes, and oceans because I would stay in the water until my lips turned blue. I do a lot of things in the vein of "facing my fears" but swim team was not one in the water sense. A little bit in the diving+fear of heights sense, but not water My fear *really, really* isn't of water and it never even looked like it was.)

    1. I know you meant it was of adults, but in a way, part of my fear of the water (which i don't have now, thank goodness, except for maybe a residual teeny-weeny hint of nervousness if I go too many years without swimming), was also connected to adults, and to being out of a safe area. After all, even before I actually got over that fear, I used to go in the shallow end of pools with goggles and go underwater, holding my nose, on the rare occasions i actually got to go into a pool without an adult directing what I was supposed to do. So I guess in a way, my situation was kind of like normal hydrophobia and kind of like your situation, but not quite identical to either. It mostly generalized to the deep end and getting water up my nose, which reminded me of the traumatic experiences I had with water.
      And, like many abuse survivors, I had no idea that my situation was especially traumatic for a long time. I just thought I was a scaredy-cat for not getting over my fears when I was "supposed" to, just as surely as I thought I was an emotional weakling and a big baby for expressing, and even feeling, emotions "inappropriately".

  3. "My fear is not of water, but of adults telling me it is safe for me to sit,
    Then discovering, gasping, that they are wrong."

    Oh, man. This sums up so much for me. I had a total lack of security growing up because of so many little things that were this.


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