Blog #107~Dolphins and My Son with Special Needs
There is something about dolphins and Nick. The first time I noticed his fascination was on a field trip to the Shedd Aquarium when he was 6 years old. As the dolphins sprung out of the water he got so excited! The look on his face was sheer delight. I’d never seen him so joyful and mesmerized all at once.
A few years later, at SeaWorld in San Antonio, my sister witness Nick’s joy. Laura literally cried seeing Nick’s face light up. He is so drawn to the dolphins and beluga whales. Nick has Down syndrome and autism. His speech is limited. But no words were needed. The look on his face said it all. I knew that I had to find a way for him to get up close with dolphins as they seemed to be able to connect to Nick.
A few years ago we took a vacation down in the Florida Keys. This was a perfect opportunity to find a program where Nick could get in the water with the dolphins. There are many dolphin encounters in that area but I decided on a more personal experience at Hawk’s Cay Resort. “The Dolphin Connection” provided this with small groups of 4 or 5 participants. I spoke with the head trainer to discuss our son and his special needs. She assured me they were very experienced with handling such. I created a social story filled with icons to support Nick in understanding the schedule of events. It was a beautiful day with the warm sun cascading over the aqua waters of the Keys.
The first part consisted of a brief classroom instruction to go over rules and education on dolphins. Nick along with his Dad, brother and cousins were so excited to squeeze into wet suits and get down to the docks. The experience was very hands-on where each participant individually got to touch, feed, hug and even kiss these amazing mammals. Nick was completely engrossed. As the trainer had the dolphin roll over Nick quickly bent down to give the dolphin a “raspberry” on its belly. The trainer remarked, “Well, THAT’S a first”. Leave it to Nick, I have a feeling that trainer will never forget him!
The final portion of the dolphin encounter included interaction using hand signals. This was a huge splash as they were able to gesture and the dolphin would clap, twirl around, move backwards, and jump high in the air. As I stood behind the camera filming, I was deeply moved. This day was such a beautiful gift and the photo tells the story that Nick indeed was connected and absorbed in this moment.
Nick and his Dad……
Nick still likes to watch the video footage from that day. Two of his favorite movies are Flipper and A Dolphin Tale. I have to think that this unique experience will forever be one of the best things we have done for our son and together as a family.
Nick’s brother, Hank and his cousin Anna….
When you have a child with special needs and limited speech it can be extremely challenging to know what they are thinking, feeling and what they truly love. I had a hunch that this experience would be a slam dunk. Indeed, it was and then some. My heart is warm in knowing that we could give this to him. That’s what is in my noggin this week. 🙂