D loves to swing. Always has. When he was still an infant I put one of those infant/toddler swings in the backyard and I would push him for what seemed like forever. Then when D turned 2 he stopped going outside one winter. He was going along just fine in the fall. Then. Nothing. He was almost completely nonverbal at the time, so no matter how many times I tried to encourage him to go outside he wouldn’t. And he didn’t have the words to explain.
Then winter turned to spring and he began to go outside again. And I thought it was just a phase and all over.
The very next winter the same thing happened. One day I woke up to realize that it had been weeks since he’d been in the backyard. An invitation to play was turned down. At this point he had a few more words, but couldn’t seem to explain. At one point he told me he didn’t like winter “because the noise the wind makes in the trees.” I went outside to listen, but all I heard was silence. Maybe that was it.
A was born in January. That spring we all played outside and had a good time. Ditto in the fall. Then one day as winter approached I took A outside to the swing. D had stopped going outside once again. I thought when he saw how much fun A and I would have in the swing he want to come out with us. What happened next was completely shocking.
He panicked. I was in the process of putting A in the swing when D ran out to us. He frantically pulled on my jacket, shaking his head ‘no,’ mouth opened in a silent scream. Confused, I implored him to play. He ran inside, then back outside to me. Finally speaking the words, “Hurt A.” He pointed back to the door. He was perfectly clear. Something was going to hurt the baby. We must go inside NOW! Inside we went, immediately.
A few days later I stood at our back door, staring out at the backyard. Suddenly, my eyes hit on the swing. That was it! It was the swing! I told my husband to go take it down, right away. And that WAS it. He began going outside right away.
Since that day, his fear of swings has both worsened and clarified. He still loves to swing. His fear is of empty swings, hanging and moving with the breeze. It’s also of signs in the store and swing with movement of air. The few times I take him to Kroger we must duck under those signs, to keep them from swinging. Once he found one swinging, being blown by an air conditioner, I’m sure. We quickly turned the corner, while I frantically told him over and over it was about to stop swinging. His fear of things that swing is much worse in winter than summer. And we tend to avoid playgrounds with swings, most especially in winter.
I call it what it is, an Irrational Fear. It is part and parcel of his autism. Autism, as always, had complicated a situation that shouldn’t be complicated. It has stolen D’s peace.