One recent Sunday afternoon, my husband and I took our daughter, Hazel, to the local public pool. Unlike last year when she was lukewarm about being in the water, Hazel smiled brightly when she saw the pool. And despite the cool water temperature that made me want to jump right out, Hazel eagerly splashed around and laughed as we moved through the water. Hazel is becoming a water bug — and we couldn’t be happier!
Hazel’s attitude change towards the pool didn't happen overnight. At age one, we signed her up for the Trisomy 21 Program’s Pool Group in fall 2017, and then again in spring 2018.
Working hard and having fun in the T21 Pool Group
Over the course of 12 to 14 sessions working with Helen Milligan, PT, MPT, and Heather Ruthrauff, MD, OTR/L, the physical and occupational therapists who lead the youngest group, Hazel’s attitude toward the pool and water has transformed. In her earliest classes, she often cried just being in the water. Today, she smiles and waves at her friends in class. She splashes the water and gets her face wet. And when she accidentally puts her face in the water, she blinks, shakes it off, and continues on. For me, Hazel’s comfort in the water is a huge win. But it is certainly not the only takeaway from Pool Group.
Pool Group is an extra hour of therapy for Hazel every other week while the group is in session. She has had therapy through Early Intervention (EI) since she was two months old, and today, she has a four-person EI team who work with her weekly. Hazel was born with hypotonia and is especially weak in her core and upper arms. Physical therapy has always been her greatest challenge though: Hazel’s hypotonia combined with some sensory issues that make her hesitant to put significant weight on her feet or hands have delayed her reaching some milestones, including four-point crawling, standing, and walking.
Since starting in Pool Group, Hazel’s body has gotten much stronger. She army crawls everywhere, sits independently, pivots 360-degrees in the sitting position, and is so close to sitting up on her own. One of the greatest things about Pool Group is that — with friends there to distract her, songs to sing, and toys to play with in the water — Hazel doesn’t realize she’s working as hard as she is. But she is working, and that hard work is really starting to show in how she moves herself around and continues making small but important steps every day.
Pool group has also been a great social outlet for Hazel. Hazel made her first non-related friend at Pool Group. She is always happy to see her pool buddies as well as Helen and Heather. Hazel is social by nature, and for her, this group just encourages her outgoing side to shine even brighter. And as a parent, I couldn’t be more pleased with how she interacts with her peers and her therapists. Not to mention all the lucky people she smiles at and waves to as we walk through CHOP on our way to the pool!
But Hazel isn’t the only one who has gained something from the group. For me, Pool Group has provided me with additional tools and resources to help Hazel’s development. Talking with Helen and Heather and listening to their perspective on Hazel’s progress has helped me to be a better and more informed advocate for my daughter when I talk with her EI team. It has introduced me to other parents of children with Down syndrome. And yes, it has also given our family the opportunity to spend summer weekends at our local pool, just splashing around and having fun!
Submitted by Lynne Eddis, mom of Hazel Eddis