We’ve been back from Maui for two days now. We came home, packed away our shorts and tank tops, and put on our long underwear. Yesterday evening we watched the first snowfall of the winter turn our yard white. It was pretty.

But just for these few moments, I ask to you join me once again in lovely, warm Maui, where the breezes blow such soft sweetness into your mind that you are unable to hold even the slightest of grumpy thoughts for more than a moment.

My last post had Joseph and me hanging out together at an expensive resort. After our healing time in the hotel room, we sauntered back out to the pool. This time it was a little easier for both of us. I stopped wishing that Joseph would just relax and enjoy himself like the other kids, for God’s sake, and he stopped — what? Feeling my resistance and reacting to it? Being as scared because he’d already gone to the pools once?

But it still wasn’t easy. In particular, there was a water slide in the pool — an easy, gentle one — that had Joseph scared to death. He’d watch smaller kids shoot down it — he’d stand there, watching, for long periods of time — but he couldn’t go down himself. I forced it once by pulling him on my lap and taking him down with me, but he screamed bloody murder and I got those looks from the other parents: Stupid mother! Abusive, uncaring woman! And I gave it up.

Eventually we got into the hot tub and Joseph got a little more courageous, swimming by himself small distances and just having fun. It wasn’t long before Blue Eyes joined us. Then evening fell and we watched a magical Hawaiian ceremony that Joseph still talks about.

But here’s the thing: when we left the resort, he was still scared of the pool, scared of the little slide in the pool  — just…scared.

One of the ways autism can present is in this kind of fear. There’s some evidence showing that the primitive part of their brains is not as well connected to the rational part, so all that primal fear comes up unabated. I’d say that, in Joseph’s case, this is probably true.

This fear presented strongly around the ocean, too. Joseph was very afraid of going in past his ankles But one day I just forced it…gently. I scooped him up and carried him into the water, holding him tight and trying to make it fun. He actually enjoyed it for a bit.

Blue Eyes saw it happen and took up the theme, giving Joseph a piggy-back ride right into the ocean. When Joseph protested I showed up behind him, wrapping my arms around him and pronouncing him a Joseph sandwich. Somehow this made him feel safe, and he actually enjoyed being in the ocean for quite some time.

Then, RDI style, we very consciously spotlighted what had happened, showing Joseph how far out he’d been in the water and how well he’d done. We even took a photo so that we could remind him with a visual once we got home.

In subsequent visits to the beach, we progressed to Joseph doing some assisted swimming from me to Blue Eyes and back. And when he was on his own, he’d venture in waist-deep. Everyone felt more competent.

Being more confident in the ocean must have felt so good to Joseph. Before that I would watch him watching the other kids in the water, quite a few younger than him, and I know that somewhere, perhaps not even verbalized into thought, he was wondering what was wrong with him that he couldn’t get into the ocean like that.

A few days before we were to come back home, Joseph started talking about the resort pool again. He said he wanted to go back; he wanted to go down the slide; he wanted to put his head under the water this time.

It looked like we didn’t have time to do this, and then a little Divine Choreography occurred: the people we were house sitting for called. They were delayed; could we stay an extra day? Thank you, yes. So, on our last full day in Maui, we drove the long drive to Lahaina and snuck into the resort’s pools.

Normally Blue Eyes and I have a lot of integrity. Normally we would not use a hotel’s facilities without paying for them. But our son’s special needs make us bold sometimes. He seemed to need closure on his fears, and we were curious to see what would happen. We wanted to help him. So in we snuck.

Joseph got onto a boogie board and swam around the entire lagoon twice. Then he went to his nemesis: the slide. He sent his boat down. He outright refused to go down on my lap. He sat at the top of the slide and, making sure that Dad was at the bottom should anything go awry, he slowly let go.

Many times. He conquered that damn slide. Then he put his head under the water. Then he swam on his own a fair distance.

When we left those pools (having constantly dodged the lady with the clipboard who was throwing non-guests out), we had by our side a competent, satisfied child.

Today was Joseph’s first day back at preschool. His teacher couldn’t believe it: Joseph used to have a paralyzing fear about going sledding down the long hill at the school. But this time he sat in the front and rode the whole way, twice, having the time of his life.

The moral? Never give up on your kid. Things may take longer than they do for typical kids — heck, they may not even happen in this lifetime — but when you run out of patience, remember that you can draw on the boundless patience of our Divine Mother/Father.

Most importantly, no matter what the obstacles may be, do everything you can to help your kid feel competent. That way, the (shudder) free-fall of incompetency and fear can be replaced by riding high on an upward spiral of competence and confidence.

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