Simon was born in Caracas-Venezuela in 1999, as the first child of Juan and Maria Chavez, both creative and enthusiastic Petroleum Engineers, full of excitement and happiness for have got a beautiful big brown eyes boy who came to provide them with the marvellous dimension of the parenthood.
Simon started to develop as a happy and naughty baby, showing outstanding motor skills, as at the age of 9 months started to walk confidently, with affinity to Music and full of joy. He used to dance to the very first popular Christina Aguilera songs and he used to get emotional watching her “I turn to you” video, with Incontrollable tears and sobbing. Just before he was 2, he used to hum her songs and my wife got amazed about how a so tiny child could be so in tune!. At the same age, he also showed his affinity to water, as he used to enjoy his showers and to come back to the tub just before he was dressed up and ready to go out!.
As at the age of 20 months old he showed seldom signs of oral communication, his parents started an investigation process through which they were told, when Simon was 32 months old, that he was within the autistic spectrum…they didn’t know what autism was and Simon was the first autistic person they met. That day started a journey of investigation which within a few months, turned to be the new life purpose for the couple and which provided the family with a new life style. When Simon was three years old, the family moved to Scotland and there they found a new home, full of people caring about children like Simon, where the family received full support from an autism organisation and from the local authorities, whom provided Simon with special schools and care.
During his early childhood in Scotland, Simon was a happy boy, active, with affinity to music and an incredible body equilibrium which was definitively appreciated as above average. The family feels really grateful of the good people and schools found in Scotland and because of that Scotland is now their home base. In his second school in Scotland, Simon stayed until he was 12. There, he was surrounded by love and dedication; they exposed Simon to teaching methods used in autism, sensory activities, horse-riding, climbing, science, music among others, including a weekly swimming class. The swimming teacher highlighted to us how happy and confident was Simon in the water, but due to safety reasons, Simon always wore inflatable arm bands so we never appreciated his gift.
One day, just being 5, Simon tried to go into one beach in Scotland and his mum got very nervous as he was determined to go deeper, so daddy ran after him… Simon didn’t bother about the low water temperature, he was full of joy just for being into the water. Simon always showed interest in outdoor activities and not that much to TV or electronic games; riding bike, walking in the mountains and parks, and of indeed he really liked the limited exposure to water. Indoor rock climbing was also something he was great at, showing an outstanding ability for it. Then, the family decided to take a good career opportunity in Oman. There, Simon went to a home-schooling scheme, with a team working with him and covering different areas. The move to Oman came at the same time the size of the family increased, when Simon mum’s sister died from cancer in Venezuela, leaving 2 young girls, Sandra and Camila, today 12 and 7, whom are now the amazing Simon’s sisters. The first time Simon faced the beach in Oman, he was not comfortable…he was used to the swimming pool and not to the waves of the sea…however, with love and patience, all is possible.
The family used to go, almost every day to the beach, together with Gabriel’s family, a very sensitive and amazing friend friend who helped Simon a lot during this first interaction with the sea. The two families used to go to the shallow area of the beach and very slowly, Simon started to stay in the water more and more and to get used to the waves…Simon was 12. Soon after, Maria, a swimming teacher professional offered the family support in teaching swimming to Simon. Simon’s parents accepted, but they went very nervous to the first class…not knowing that Simon that day decided to be great in the water and he showed her what he is made from…she was amazed that the very first day in the deep side of the swimming pool, Simon floated and stayed very confidently in the water. She started a journey of 4 lessons per week, with very fast improvements every day….in a couple of weeks, Simon was swimming…using his own style…but swimming. Maria, the swimming teacher and now close friend of the family, noticed that Simon preferred to be inside the water, to swim for longer periods without breathing and being more a dolphin than a swimmer. In the swimming pool, other boys gathered around Simon trying to copy his particular way of floating, something he could do for extended periods of time without getting tired…while other juts gave up…Simon kept floating…Simon had discovered the Arquimedes’ principle of buoyancy itself, just by being exposed to the water and by letting him experience the water on his own.
Simon’s dad is also a good swimmer and always showed affinity to the sea and the sea life, especially dolphins. At that point, he decided to go with Maria and to observe Simon under the water, basically Simon invited his dad to be with him in the water.
Being there, Simon’s dad started to learn about apnoea and to increase the time inside the water without breathing. Maria was aware of Simon lack of speech but she decided to move forward without any predisposition of the autistic nature of Simon. Simon continued exploring and discovering the water as a peaceful and fascinating environment in which he was allowed to understand by himself the physics and the interaction of his body with the water, breathing techniques, floating techniques and at the end, the perfect balance of himself with his surroundings.
As Simon’s dad finds really boring swimming above the water and he feels more peace and interesting to be underwater, he decided, together with Maria, to be with Simon under the water; it can be said now that both followed his lead. Simon’s dad started to teach him techniques and Simon as good observer, quickly learned from him as well.
At that point Simon’s dad decided to take freediving lessons and to get certified. The team continued the swimming classes and it was decided to let Simon to choose his swimming style, which happened to be a new style, the “Soul Diver- dolphin” style, swimming underwater for several seconds, vertically lifting his head time to time to take air. Due to the lack of speech, the team decided to give him the freedom to experiment and to observe what Simon’s dad was doing, at that point Simon’s dad started to capture Simon with photos and videos to monitoring his progress, this with the intention to observe in more detail what he was doing, how he was tackling the challenges and to be able to submerge 3 meters and to touch the bottom of the swimming pool.
Buoyancy is a concept difficult to teach with no verbal communication. It was amazing for the team to observe how he was solving the challenge by totally relaxing his body and by exhaling and practicing exhale apnoea.
He internalised this concept really well and now he controls the level of air in his lungs to control buoyancy in the pool as well as in the sea, allowing him to be relaxed before diving, a method icon’s dad is using now and also Simon’s dad teaches to others. The team then decided to move to the sea and to experiment different conditions to those of the swimming pool.
Changes of water density, salinity, currents, waves, sea creatures, changes of temperature as you dive and changes of pressure as you get deeper, where pressure compensation is critical. Just after 3 months of training between 3 to 4 days a week Simon was moving from 3 to 8 meters depth.
Reviewing the videos with a freediver friend the team realised he was using the abdominal and neck muscles to help him to compensate. Simon’s dad is now professionally certified at level 3 freediver by SSI. Safety is definitely a key element and now when the team practice at the sea, Simon is with his dad and Maria, the swimming instructor whom now is into freediving as well, this thanks to Simon. Simon is now reaching 15 meters depth comfortably without fully packing his lungs, however reaching deep is not the objective but enjoying practicing a sport he loves giving him confidence that impacts other areas of his life; by the way, Simon swims is so powerful and fast…when he decides he wants to swim. The usual practice is 1000 meters swimming and 5 to 10 diving cycles between 5 to 8 meters. Simon has also understood the meaning of danger, as in two opportunities he though Maria and other child needed help and with total control and calm, he went down to assist them and to lift them to the surface…the tears of the family got multiplied.
As a note on the side, it is fair to say that his elegance swimming up and down is second to none and his power is huge, as when he decides to move he leaves all behind … It is just amazing! Simon is definitively inspiring others, some other children have joined the team for swimming and diving.
Simon’s autism has provided him with the ability to perceive the wold in a different level, allowing him to understand it in a genius way, to create and overcome challenges in his life (e.g. Freediving) with no restrictions or preconceived ideas, as we learned when we grow up from been kids with unlimited possibilities to restricted adults.
Autism is a condition which provides the individual with such a nurtured internal world. Autistic people can, through experiences and observations, derive many conclusions, difficult to derive by others… going from the particular to the general is easy, so exposing them and giving them time to understand, to become familiar with an environment, to pass from the chaos to control, no stress, no underestimation.. They will find things we cannot imagine.
Simon’s parents have learned to be patients and observants of Simon’s interests in order to help him to develop them to his full potential. It sounds simple, but they believe this is a key, there are obviously other extremely important elements as the diet to keep a balance on his brain and body and a healthy life.
As a last but not least, Simon is not competing with anybody, is enjoying himself, and by that, he is mastering…with no words.
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