So this Saturday it absolutely pelted it down with rain all day. It’s the kind of day that I used to secretly quite like before I had children. John works Saturdays so I probably would have stayed in bed for with a cup of tea and a cat on my lap, cleaned the house and tidied up a bit, and then spent the afternoon reading a book or watching a film – just pottering around doing my own thing in my own time. I also really like the sound of rain falling and can quite happily while away some time staring out the window and watching it coming down.
Fast forward 10 years and a rainy day with three primary school aged children isn’t particularly my idea of fun! Sometimes they’re OK and we’ll get some board games out and play them, or the kids will play together, but more often than not they all want to do different things or they get bored without seeing their friends, and even if they all agree that they want to play a game or watch a film they’ll still all want to play different games and watch different films!
This Saturday we had some plans so it wasn’t too bad, just a case of getting soaked going in and out the house! The girls have swimming lessons every Saturday morning at 9.00, so we have to get up and get going as if it were a school day – not my favourite thing! But there is a long waiting list for swimming lessons since covid so to be fair a 9am lesson is better than no lesson at all.
Swimming isn’t something any of the kids have asked to do, it’s something I make them do because I don’t want them to drown! Matthew has only just started (I couldn’t get him in on a Saturday so he does Tuesday after school) but is quite excited by it all and is having fun splashing around during his lessons. Alice likes swimming and is progressing through the various stages. She can swim, it’s more a case now of getting the breathing right so she doesn’t have to put her feet on the floor and can just keep going. Katie is fairly indifferent to it all. She likes swimming on her front but she really struggles to do it on her back, to the point that she’s been in the same stage class for nearly 2 years now (albeit with a couple of breaks due to covid and various lockdowns) and is a bit cheesed off that Alice has whizzed ahead of her.
Swimming is also another reminder of how Katie’s sensory issues can really impact what she’s doing and make things that much more of an effort for her. It may well be that swimming wouldn’t come naturally to her anyway, but there are other factors that she finds difficult that the other two don’t really get bothered about. For starters Katie likes to know what’s going to happen and when, so when she gets to her lesson and finds she has a substitute teacher that always throws her off a bit. Her regular teacher knows she loves horses and will try and bring some sort of horse theme into the lesson for her, even if it’s just sitting on a noodle and pretending it’s a horse, but it always makes Katie smile and engage in the lesson more, whereas obviously a substitute teacher wouldn’t know to do that. Her regular teacher knows that Katie won’t always look at her and doesn’t mind her not doing parts of the lesson if they’re too much, whereas a substitute teacher might nag her a bit more about those things. Plus it’s a break of routine and an unexpected difference. It doesn’t mean she can’t or won’t do the lesson if there is a different teacher, but it does mean she’s more likely to be anxious and a bit ‘prickly’ afterwards. This Saturday was one of those days where she had a substitute teacher.
The pool environment doesn’t really suit Katie either. She really doesn’t like some of the sensations that come with swimming, which I suppose is the same for a lot of people but everything is always heightened with Katie. She doesn’t like getting too close to the other kids and getting splashed or caught with a stray arm or leg so she usually hangs back and tries things after everyone else. She doesn’t like baths or showers in general and getting her to have one at home can be hard work so we’ve come to the agreement that she has a shower every week after swimming when she’s already wet anyway, but she doesn’t like the temperature changes from the pool to the cold air and then into the warm shower. Then once she’s in the shower she doesn’t want to get out and be colder again. She loves the feel of shampoo frothing up in her hair so it can also be quite hard to get her past the hair washing stage. She doesn’t like having her hair rubbed dry or dried with a hairdryer and she doesn’t like having it brushed either, although my mum did find a sensory friendly brush which has made that a million times easier. She doesn’t like putting clothes on when her skin is still a bit damp. And for a child who finds noise difficult to deal with the shouting, splashing and echoing that come with being in a pool aren’t ideal for her – so there is a lot for her to contend with every swimming lesson and it’s credit to her that she gets up and gets on with it most weeks. I’m not sure how much longer she’ll carry on for given that progress is slow and difficult for her, but I do feel ultimately that it’s worth the effort because she does enjoy actually being in the pool. We’re lucky that my dad has a pool in his garden and it’s always Katie that will get straight in it in the summer and spend the most time in there, so if she could swim a bit more confidently and we didn’t have to watch her the whole time that would be a bonus.
It did make me chuckle after swimming this week as the rain was hammering down when we left. Me, Alice and Matthew were all in rain coats, hoods up, heads down against the wet, and then there’s Katie who just doesn’t pay any attention to the weather, didn’t bother with a coat, walked straight through all the puddles and got wet feet, and couldn’t care less.
The other thing the girls had on this weekend was a recording session for the singing group they’re in. They had extra sessions on top of what they usually do and were recording both Saturday and Sunday afternoons. Their teacher had to hire a different venue to the usual one they sing at, and they’d had a practice session there a couple of weeks ago. Katie had come home really stressed afterwards. The acoustics in the hall must have been a bit unusual because Katie said she had a headache and that everyone had been shouting all afternoon, even to the point where she said they were all shouting not singing. She’d been really tetchy for the rest of the day and obviously quite unsettled by it. She asked if I could get her some noise cancelling headphones for when they went back for the recording sessions, which I was surprised about because I’ve offered to buy some for her before and she’s always said no because she doesn’t want to stand out. So I bought the headphones and gave them to Katie to try and she seemed OK about it…
Until the night before, when she was really upset because she was stressing about the recording session and being back in that hall. There was lots of crying and lots of worrying about the noise making her feel ill and feeling that she was letting people down. She said she didn’t want to do the recording because she didn’t want to go back to the hall, but she was worried that we and her teacher would be upset with her. Lots of talking and reassuring later, we got to the point that:
- She could bring her headphones with her and hopefully they would help with the worst of the noise
- If it was getting too much she could go outside and have some down time
- Her teacher was going to try and rearrange things a bit and maybe have them up on stage so that the sounds didn’t reverberate quite so much
- If at any point it really got too much I could come and get her
- She didn’t have to do any of it at all and if she just wanted to stay home that was ok too
Katie decided to give it a go and I’m so glad she did because she came out after the Saturday session and was absolutely buzzing. It was a massive difference from how she’d been after the first session. She was really keen to go back and finish it off on Sunday and was literally beaming from ear to ear. Her teacher said she had been really good at telling them what she needed, and Katie said the headphones made a big difference. She has been so reluctant at having any ‘obvious’ accommodations so the fact she was prepared to wear the headphones and be more open about what she needed feels like quite a positive thing. I hope she is starting to feel more comfortable in her own skin and more confident in herself.
It made me stop and think for a moment about just how important these adjustments are. Nearly everything Katie needs, whether at home or at school or at an extra curricular activity, takes minimal effort or time. It’s just simple tweaks to her environment but they make such a difference to her wellbeing and ability to enjoy or focus on what she’s doing. It also makes me realise how much extra effort Katie has to put in to things. Alice didn’t even have to think about the fact that they would be recording in a different venue. It doesn’t bother her. It doesn’t make a difference. I didn’t have to think about it as far as she was concerned either, I just dropped her off and picked her up later and that was it. She had a great time and her teacher said afterwards that Alice had been one of her star singers. Whereas for Katie the build up is worry, stress, uncertainty, planning, anticipating, checking, having contingencies in place. It’s draining for me and even more so for her.
So…definitely a very different rainy Saturday these days to what it would have been a few years ago! I didn’t get a lie in, the house didn’t get cleaned and I didn’t pick up a book. But I did get to feel proud of both my girls as well as spend a bit of time with Matthew while the girls were out.