Thank You to a Stranger from a Special Needs Mom

girls in swimming poolPlease welcome Hadassah Rosenthal for today’s guest post. Hadassah’s moving story has a lesson for all parents.

Yesterday was my 5-year-old daughter’s first day at the pool.

I’ve heard way too many stories about kids on the Autistic Spectrum who wandered into water and ended up drowning. So, my husband and I decided it was time for Devorah to learn to swim. But teaching a 5-year-old on the Autistic Spectrum is much different than teaching a 5-year-old who is typically developing. Instead of a group class, she gets private lessons. Instead of a seasoned swimmer who’s good with kids, she gets a trained hydrotherapist. And getting ready for swimming requires about a week of preparation. Unavoidably, something is going to be forgotten. Ima’s motto: be vigilant.

After one lesson, I found out what that something was.

And this letter is a thank you to the woman — unknown and anonymous — who stepped in and filled in the forgotten, but oh-so-necessary gap.

The lesson  itself was perfect. Devorah had a blast blowing bubbles into the water and floating on Styrofoam noodles. Her teacher fell in love with Devorah’s excitement and enthusiasm at actually entering the water. In all respects, the lesson was a success.

When the lesson was over, Devorah didn’t want to stop.You see, Devorah doesn’t really get (like most 5 year olds) that there are other people besides her. She didn’t understand that other children were waiting for their lesson. In fact, after we (the instructor and I) persuaded her to move into another area of the pool, she forcefully decided to join the next lesson, but wanted to be the only child.

After a lot of cajoling, I had to pick her up and forcefully remove her from the pool area while she was kicking and screaming. In the locker room, she convinced me that she just wanted to go back in the water and would go to another part of the pool. And so, I let her — who wants to be the cause of their child’s pain? Mistake. She made a beeline for the instructor and her swimming group. And so, I had to pick her up again. Kicking and screaming, we made our way into the locker room. I tried to wrap her up in a towel and soothe her with pressure. No can do.

And then, SHE showed up.

A bunch of ladies were in the locker room. Trying hard not to look at us. They sat and pretended that they didn’t hear the screaming, probably thankful that it wasn’t their child. And then SHE came. A rather large woman (at least 55) stood in front of us and asked what was going on (in Hebrew). Israel is an amazing country. Honestly, I love it. There’s a sense that all children must be looked after, like we’re one big family. But sometimes, it’s annoying and I hate it. This was (I thought) one of those times. I screamed at her that my child had special needs and that I was trying to calm her. She asked me how she could help. I told her that the best way she could help would be to leave us alone. And she did, but she kept watching us and Devorah kept screaming and flailing her body. Finally, she said (in perfect English) that she was a teacher in special education, and if she just knew what was going on, she could help. And so, almost in tears, I told her that my daughter had a form of autism. And very calmly, she soothed my daughter and found out that Devorah, simply, wasn’t done swimming. And so, this anonymous woman whom I had never met led my daughter out to the pool and proceeded to give her a private swimming lesson. Before the woman left the locker room (holding Devorah’s hand), she ordered me to drink a glass of water. As she and Devorah walked out of the locker room, I ran to a dark corner and cried. When I got my composure back, I drank some water and, eventually, left for the pool to retrieve my daughter.

It was another 30 minutes (along with a promise of a popsicle) before we were able to leave the pool. But, we did it. It was a 45 minute lesson that took 2.5 hours.

Today, I’m buying a bathing suit. Next week, I won’t ask an anonymous stranger to help me get my daughter out of the pool. Next week, I’ll be swimming with my daughter and be able to support her in getting out of the water. That’s next week. Today, I am oh-so-grateful to that anonymous woman who helped fill in the gap that I didn’t know existed.

About the author:  Hadassah Rosenthal is a fulltime ima, living in Tsfat with her husband and three children. She can be contacted via email at

You may also enjoy:

How to Get Help for Children with Special Needs

Frugal Strategies for Small Families that Pay Off as your Family Grows

Dealing with Challenging Children

image: USAG-Humphreys


  1. Amanda Elkohen says

    Amazing story! thank you for sharing!

  2. suzette tanen says

    My son is a person with autism and is now 28. When he was younger and we were going to take him to something new we would make a photo album with captions and would read it like a book. It didn’t always work perfectly, but certainly helped him transition to many new activities. Eventually we would just discuss the new activity and what to expect. It’s a challenging road but also filled with moments of great joy!

  3. Thanks for sharing. I recomend to all parents not only the ones of challenging kids to become familiar with CPS – collaborative problem solving. From the story we see that the problem was not solved until we understood the child’s concerns. In the moment is a pretty difficult time to solve problems , all we can do is just weather the storm the best we can and try to calm the kid. The work is ‘ out of the moment ‘ when all is calm , when you are connecting to go through the cps process. The process helps to find durable solutions . But the process itself is important as it helps the kid acquire lagging cognitive skills – the perspective taking, articulating concerns, hindsight , forsight , planning etc. For kids on the autistic spectrum it is more of a challenge , but we can help them with words , use pictures , shorter questions etc

  4. On the bottom line, that is one of the special things about Israel, although this lady “interfered”, she helped out in the end.

    Not only that, sometimes when you share a problem, you never know what will come out of it

  5. Thanks for sharing this story. What a memorable experience. It’s funny (and enriching sometimes!) what we can experience (and learn) when we give someone a chance.

  6. Shoshanna says

    Thanks, Hadassah, for sharing your story. At first I thought it was going to be about other people’s insensitivies to your daughter’s issues, and I was pleasantly surprised. This post has inspired me to search for a special-needs swimming instruction class for my 7-year-old son to help him get over his fear of the water. I’ve received a few suggestions (in the NYC area) and hopefully he will be splashing in a pool this summer.

  7. esther kohn says

    such a touching article.

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