A few years back junior had a strong aversion to water. This was odd for someone who also had a compulsion to be squeaky clean. I might describe it as an aversion to being wet, but that would not be accurate. If a droplet of water fell on his clothing, he would not be ‘wet,’ but he would be naked in a nano second. Taking your clothes off regardless of your whereabouts, might be mildly amusing if you are very small, a toddler say. It is less funny, depending upon which continent you are on, when you are bigger, in a public forum and in a cold season.
When we moved to this house, junior had yet to be born. The one thing I wanted in a home was a big kitchen. The one thing I did not want was a swimming pool. At home only millionaires and movie stars have pools. My hormone filled, pregnant brain knew that a pool was a bad idea. How would I clean it? What if it leaked? What if somebody drowned?
Two or three summers ago we discovered that the pool was ‘safe’ for junior. He wouldn’t go near it. This was consistent with his aversion to water. By chance, midway into the season, he discovered that when the water reached 98 degrees, the pool was fun. It was not the water itself, but the temperature that he objected to. This was confirmed when September came and the temperature dipped below the critical 98 degrees. That was it, he reverted to type and nothing would persuade him to put so much as a toe in it. During this time, swimming sessions were combined with a shower to clean off on completion. Dressing thereafter was pretty optional. All my children were extremely clean for several months. At the end of the first week of September, it occurred to me, that junior hadn’t been near a shower or bath for 7 days. He would not use the shower in the house and had forgotten that once upon a time, he enjoyed baths. By the end of the second week I was getting worried. He was getting smelly. I asked spouse to help, that perhaps they could have a shower together, as slippery small people require super human strength. It was not a successful exercise for anyone. After the ‘shower’ he did have a few damp bits but this merely served to redistribute the dirt and add a considerable quantity of snot to his person as he howled in rage and frustration. At that time he was only at ‘school’ for two and a half hours a day, which gave me lots of time to strategize. We adopted a different approach. A very, very slow approach. This might be more accurately described as ‘de-sensitization.’ He was still ‘Thomas’ obsessed at the time. We made the unprecedented step of playing with Thomas upstairs, on the landing for 20 minute periods. Gradually we edged closer to the bathroom. Once in the bathroom at the furthest distance from the bath itself, we tip toed closer. When the other’s were bathing, we would play with Thomas close by on the carpet, which meant that he observed the ‘fun’ they were having, and was occasionally splashed. Day after day, week after week. We played Thomas in the empty bath, touched the taps, rolled the wheels along the side. We had other preferred activities in the bath; snacks, reading and drawing with markers. It took forever. Each progressive step caused meltdowns and genuine angst for everyone. He was so filthy you could have chipped off a crust of dirt with a chisel. By Christmas, we got there, toe by toe, inch by inch.
What did I learn from this experience? That I left it too long to start. I should have recognized the problem immediately, not let things lag for a week or two hoping that it would go away. My lack of action merely made the aversion become truly entrenched. Even now I need to remind myself that even though ‘water’ is part of the problem, it is coupled with the ‘temperature problem.’ I know that they do not have a ‘will of iron,’ instead they have an ‘aversion.’
Aversions cannot be tricked, they are real. I also know that whilst we are in steady state as far as bathing is concerned at the moment, that the whole exercise is likely to be repeated, when we next experience change, although hopefully the transition will be swifter. That’s why it’s really called ABA; from A to B, and then back to A again six months later, or sooner if you’re very unlucky or careless like me.