Lila started ISR lessons in May. I had always heard positive things about ISR, was always impressed with the videos my friends shared of their children participating in these survival swim/learn to float lessons. But the lessons are intense - they are 5-6 weeks of daily private lessons, for 10 minutes. The hotel they are offered at is a 15 minute drive from our house.
When we visited Mark’s parents at Easter and Lila spent the entire time trying to get to the pool, which was closed and covered with a tarp, I panicked. I researched child drowning statistics to see whether above ground pools were any safer. While statistically fewer childhood drownings happen in above ground pools, especially if they have a platform instead of an “A” ladder, the number wasn’t zero, and Lila’s behavior around water has always been concerning. But we have also learned that she is fiercely determined, extremely stubborn, and completely fearless around water. So I reached out to our local ISR instructor.
The first question I asked was whether these lessons could possibly work for somebody with Lila’s delays, but our instructor assured me she was a great candidate. Her strong receptive language, general love of water, and very powerful upper body strength definitely work for her. Our instructor is also a PT and so she understood the various muscle tone issues that come with Lila’s disability. We had to have a medical clearance and our pediatrician and cardiologist both signed off on Lila being able to do these lessons.
If we were going to do ISR lessons, while I am still full-time work-from-home is definitely the time. My biggest concern was how to get there after work in traffic and still manage dinner, but our instructor offered the lessons in the morning which is really helpful. Our timeslot was 7:50 and I got Lila up at 7 and we left our house at 7:15. She was out of the water at 8am and then dressed and we’d head to daycare and she was there by 8:30. We shifted her therapy schedule a little bit to accommodate the lessons, but we also happened to hit a good spot at the end of the year where her services from Infants & Toddlers are winding down.
There are a lot of people who have said that ISR lessons are really hard to watch or are really traumatic. I agree that they can be hard to watch - Lila does a lot of screaming (but! she also yells for “mama” and my heart explodes) but it has actually been good, I think, for her to understand that water isn’t a safe space and I am hopeful that she might, just might, stop trying to walk into the harbor. (The inner harbor in Baltimore is just wide open and also disgusting.)
Kids with disabilities sometimes take longer to learn via ISR, or any other method, and from what I can tell, Lila has definitely taken a lot longer than the typical span for ISR kids, but she finally found her float and had been *slightly* less upset about being in the pool. But watching her scream while floating doesn’t upset me anymore - because if she falls in a pool, screaming is actually one of the tools that she can use to alert somebody nearby that she’s fallen in. So it’s great that she can scream AND float at the same time.
Most anti-drowning efforts are focused on “layers of protection”. Like the swiss cheese approach we have talked about this pandemic with handwashing, distancing, masks, vaccines all being imperfect ways to stay safe, a pool with a fence or a pull-up ladder, gates around the pool, door alarms, and ISR lessons are all layers of protection to prevent drowning. We’ll be adding some gates to the deck at Mark’s parents’ house to slow Lila down from being able to access the pool if we aren’t with her. We will also be using her Ikiki squeaky shoes while we are on vacation so we can have a sense of where she is in the house.
Some of the other tips from ISR are to get in the pool with your child - we already do this most of the time, and we do it 100% of the time with Lila, and to get rid of puddle jumpers and other floatation aids. We are going to try this, and use Lila’s proper life jacket when she is near open water at the beach. She has stopped engaging in the belly-flopping behavior in shallow water that was what prompted us to get her the puddle jumper in the first place, and she is much more sure footed in the pool when she can stand so I am hopeful that we can take this step.
Unfortunately, Lila came down with RSV this week and wasn’t able to complete her last week of lessons. Our instructor is moving out of state this weekend so there wasn’t any way to make them up. Fortunately, our instructor reached out to everyone she knew and another instructor is squeezing us in in the evenings next week to finish up Lila’s instruction, so cross your fingers for us that she’ll be feeling better and be able to master her swim-roll-float!