By Ana Dragu
Because there are not many testimonials of people with autism attempting scuba diving, I want to share a personal story, the journey my autistic son made under the care of a very helpful and professional instructor. A journey to not just enabling him to dive, but to feel happy and calm underwater – and to become a better diver than we all expected.
My name is Ana and I am a clinical psychologist and psychotherapist working with people with mental health disabilities, with a focus on autism spectrum disorders. I am also a proud PADI Rescue Diver since July, and I plan to extend my diving skills by completing the Dive Master course soon.
I live in Romania with my kids that are now 22 and 18. My son, Edy. was first diagnosed with autism at 2 years old, he also has obsessive compulsive disorder. It was quite hard to enjoy our holidays when he was little, to travel or to do any risky activities like diving.
Our passion for diving started in 2015 in Montenegro, and has since developed into love story that completely changed our lives. I will never forget our first dive together in the Mediterranean Sea – it was a try-dive for me, and my son who was only 11 at the time. At his request, the instructors we met there put a suit and an air tank on him and took him somewhere around 5m deep to see if he can manage with the equipment and be comfortable under water. To our awe, he not only did well, complying to all the requirements of PADI, but also he was happier than I ever seen him before. I do not exaggerate when I say that it was an unexpected surprise for all of us.
In 2019 we went to Egypt to continue our diving experiences. I decided that my daughter and I will take courses, and in my mind my the plan for Edy was to enjoy swimming and snorkeling. But our plans went to a new level when he insisted on diving again. We looked for a good diving instructor with the adaptive diving speciality and we were extremely lucky to meet Khattab Faramawi, an IDC Staff Instructor. Patiently and very carefully, taking all the precautions, he started to take Edy underwater to discover the amazing marine life of the Red Sea. We all held our breath during his first dives – metaphorically speaking! But yet again, he managed to surprise us and had huge smiles on his face. The level of calm he kept underwater made all want to continue to see his training through.
We have since visited the Red Sea 2-3 times. Edy passed the PADI Discover Scuba course and diving changed his life forever. It has had a profound positive impact on him.
Now, as you would suspect, someone with such a complex disorder has some particularities and behaviours on land that make you consider possible safety issues, but underwater, it was a whole new story. During and after dives he is calmer than most OWD divers I have seen, he is very respectuful toward the marine life and follows all the instructions. His love for diving made him learn and use new skills that we never thought he would learn. Have you ever seen a dolphin? Although all eyes are on him during dives, and his amazing instructor never leaves his side, we all agree that taking him diving is no longer riskier than taking any neurotypical person.
His happiness and his speed in learning makes us happy and proud. For me, I am over the moon being able to dive with both my kids with no discrimination. Not only that, Edy is in love with diving and wants to continue his formal training. His fears and anxieties vanish while diving and he is very confident in his skills.
I write this article for DIVERmag.com so I can send a big THANK YOU to your PADI and to our instructor, but most importantly to send an important message: many atypical people are able to learn how to dive, providing they find the right instructor. This can improve their life and mental health tremendously. All you need to do is be open minded and try.
If you or a loved one are experiencing mental health issues, believe scuba is a good therapy. If you love water give yourself a chance!
Discovering these underwater experiences can change a life forever, making you and your loved ones more confident and happy above water. If we can do it, so can you, and it will change your lives forever.
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