Things my autistic kids love: Swimming. Or, how we’re going beyond requesting with AAC


I’ve previously shared with you how much Owen and Oliver love public transit and books and I had planned for some time that the next post in the series would be about swimming. An added bonus arose this week when implementing my plan to use the things Owen loves as a way to go beyond him just asking for them to conversing about them. We’re going beyond requesting with AAC in a big way and he and I are both loving it.

First steps (or splashes I guess) – the Snoezelen pool

Owen has adored water since he was a baby but Oliver has always been more hesitant around it. A couple of years ago, as I wanted Oliver’s first swimming experience to be as positive as possible, I registered both boys for a couple of session blocks in the Snoezelen Pool at Holland Bloorview. Both of them loved it but it was especially helpful for Oliver. The water is as warm as a bath, I was in the pool with him the whole time and we could just relax. The lights were dimmed so we could easily see the things projected onto the walls, play with water toys, bob around in the bubbles. I highly recommend it if you’re in the Toronto area.

Snoezelen pool at Holland Bloorview

Swimming lessons with Making Waves

The biggest downside of Holland Bloorview was that it was across the other side of town. Luckily, a program started up that was much closer to where we live. Making Waves Canada is a non-profit organization that has chapters across the country. Students in post-secondary education volunteer to provide disabled children and youth with one-to-one support and instruction during term time. As the students are volunteers the only cost associated with the program is renting accessible facilities and this keeps the registration fees extremely low and affordable. We’ve done three Fall/Winter sessions now and everyone we’ve dealt with as part of Making Waves has been terrific – their weekly swimming lesson was the highlight of the boys’ week.

Making Waves Canada

Oliver and Owen last year, waiting for a lesson to start

A pool of our own!

When I was looking for an apartment for us to move into after our house sold, because the boys both love swimming so much I was hoping I could find an apartment in a building that has a pool. I lucked out. Check out the boys having a blast:

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What has this to do with going beyond requesting with AAC?

I’m glad you asked. Owen knows how to request the things he’s most interested in, so these are the items I’ve put into his communication boards in Proloquo2Go (P2G). What I was banking on was, because they’re things he loves, he would also be motivated to converse with me about them a little. I figured there was no point in me adding a button in P2G for ‘cauliflower’ when he has zero interest in anything to do with vegetables, let alone eating them. So, in his food folder I have cheerios, cookies, water and juice, in his Things folder I have his iPad and in his Places folder I have the swimming pool.
Owen will typically ask to go swimming by grabbing my hand, taking me to the bathroom and pointing to the floatation devices hanging on the shower rail. When he did that earlier this week I decided to see how far we could get in terms of chatting about it. When he pointed to his PFD I did a pantomime ‘not sure what you’re talking about?’ gesture.
Not sure what youre talking about?

He went to his iPad Mini and said:

Requesting in Proloquo2Go

To which I responded, “Ohhhh…do you want to go to the swimming pool?” (with a big emphasis on the word go)

Asking question in Proloquo2Go

I got a HUGE grin from him at this point. As he was enjoying the back and forth I decided to carry on. I went to his Chat folder and said ‘yes’ – he then tapped the yes button. We went back to the home page and as I said the words, he tapped on the buttons. I didn’t have to point to them, he knew where they were. He also successfully and completely independently navigated from the home page to his Places folder for the last button.

Modelling language and conversing with Proloquo2Go

To which I responded:

Going beyond requesting with AAC

Both to acknowledge his request but also it gave me the opportunity to reinforce what he’d said before through repetition, and to restate the sentence using a different pronoun. I then explained to him that yes, we would definitely go swimming after we’d finished eating dinner.

After we ate, Owen came up to me and, with no prompting (verbal or otherwise) he said:

Going beyond requesting with AAC

I bet you can imagine what we did next.

Yes it’s still a request but I’m using these requests to build his core vocabulary. So, in front of the elevators (which he loves) we talk about seeing them, liking them and going up and down. If he asks for his iPad I turn it into hide and seek by using P2G to say things like ‘where is your iPad?’ ‘Is this your iPad? [picking up a banana]’ ‘No?!’ ‘Oh, here it is’  Simple requests are turning into conversations and games, and he’s learning new words rapidly – yesterday he came up to me and said:

Full sentence request in Proloquo2Go

That’s a progression from tapping one button to completing an entire sentence in just a couple of days, simply by focusing on chatting with him about the things he loves.

Looking for help on how to build language around a person’s interests? Heidi LoStracco of Speak for Yourself put together a terrific flowchart which you can find on their website here.

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3 Responses to Things my autistic kids love: Swimming. Or, how we’re going beyond requesting with AAC

  1. Lisa November 21, 2013 at 4:44 am #

    ABA Power of pairing! I like the sound of those folder names… 🙂

  2. Diane November 21, 2013 at 9:59 am #

    Swimming is so fabulous. Breath control, strengthening, coordination, and, the best part, kids have no idea it is therapeutic. All kinds of awesome that it is a AAC motivator, too!

    • OMum22 November 21, 2013 at 10:03 am #

      It really is so beneficial and it’s wonderful to see Owen both happy and confident. As a low-toned little one he’s always had trouble with gross motor activities but the pool is a fantastic leveller in that regard.

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