Nolan likes swimming. Like many others living with autism, he is drawn to the water. So, it’s fortunate for him that his school provides pool therapy once per week. It’s fortunate for me that the therapies are performed at the Mitchell Therapy Pool, which just happens to be located on the Vermont Achievement Center campus where I work. Nearly every Tuesday I try to sneak down to the pool on the other side of the building to see Nolan, if even for just five minutes.
A couple weeks ago I missed visiting with him, which in itself doesn't man much; I've missed a Tuesday here or there before. However, I found out later that I would have seen a rather amazing thing, had I visited this one particular swim session.
Ann, our very hard working pool director, is in love with each of the kids in all of our programs. She has also become attached to the visitors to our pool, including those from outside organizations. She makes it a point to learn about each one, including their names and a little about them. Nolan is no exception.
One day when my own student was visiting the pool, Ann shared with me what I missed the previous Tuesday.
As I've found him in the past, Ann told me Nolan was sitting alone at the end of one of the picnic tables enjoying his snack after a usually rigorous swim session. At the other end sat an anatomical rescue dummy, seated in an upright position, just as a kid enjoying a snack would be after a usually rigorous swim session. As Ann thumbed through a catalog, she watched Nolan watching the mannequin; his eyes would return to his snack, then back to the dummy, and back again.
Slowly, Nolan inched closer to the mannequin, obviously curious and interested about the new addition to the table. Ann set the magazine down on the table as she walked away to answer the phone a few feet from the picnic table. When her attention turned back to my son, she couldn't believe what she saw.
Nolan had slid himself all the way over, and he had placed Ann’s catalog in front of the dummy; his hand was patting the back of the doll and he was turning the magazine’s pages as he repeatedly asked the inanimate object, “Are you okay, baby?” He thought the adult-sized puppet was a baby!
She was floored by the adorable scene, and I was amazed. When I told Lori about it later, we were both delighted that this kid, who three years ago couldn't so much as say his name, had now engaged in spontaneous play with a full-sized doll and had acknowledged its presence --- and had read it a book!