Posted in Autism, Down syndrome, Fun Side of Nick, Recreation/Leisure and Special Needs

Blog #107~Dolphins and My Son with Special Needs


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.

Dolphin show

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 Kiss

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….

dolphin photos 07 002 (2)

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. 🙂




Teresa is the Author of "A New Course: A Mother's Journey Navigating Down Syndrome and Autism" and the mother of two boys. Her youngest son, Nick is 29 years old and has a dual diagnosis of Down syndrome and autism (DS-ASD). Teresa's passion is helping others understand and navigate co-occurring Down syndrome and autism. She is a DS-ASD consultant, advocate, speaker, and author. Follow Nick's world on Facebook, Instagram & Pinterest @Down Syndrome With A Slice of Autism and on Twitter @tjunnerstall. For more information and media links, visit

10 thoughts on “Blog #107~Dolphins and My Son with Special Needs

  1. That touches my heart too! After working at sea world i learned the besuty of the dolphin in its unique connection to humans.. As I learned from trainers and watching them connect and train them… Working with them too I know they sense your mood and heart.. they saw Nicks sweetness and genuine love he has AND is totally capable of! Special needs doesnt mean he cant feel and connect!! Loved seeing him kiss the dolphin!! Soo special!!

    1. I thought you would enjoy this story, KB. You were fortunate enough to work at SeaWorld and understand the special connection they can make. Thank you for reading and your support. 🙂

  2. TJ What a wonderful experience. I relate to Nick’s delight with dolphins. One of my favorite things when we are in TX is getting to see the dolphins from the ferry! It is always so wondrous. They are truly magical creatures and I think they touch something pure and elemental in all of us.

    BTW, here’s a new article you might want to check out. Did you get to read Grain Brain yet? Joleene

    Sent from my iPad


  3. Very interesting to see how you set up the proper environment for Nick…prepped Nick with the icon story-board of his dolphin adventure and then worked with the head trainer about Nick’s special needs.

    It gives confidence and great steps to follow for anyone wishing to provide a great wxperience for their special needs child.

    And what a memorable day!!!!!

    Thank you!

  4. Beautiful story & how lucky Nick is to have you as a mother. I picked up your link from Johannah’s blog (I am her mother). Living in Florida we get to experience dolphins frequently and I remember our granddaughter’s first reaction–it is magical. It was so nice that Nick was able to get a “hands on” connection and share the experience with his Dad. My parents were foster parents for a brief time with a special needs child and I was blessed with the chance to get to know him. They touch your life like nothing else. Keep up the good work and I will continue to follow.

    1. So glad you are following Deb. Johannah use to take step classes from me and miss seeing her smiling face. I spent a good hour reading her blog on Saturday. I found it very enlightening and thought provoking.

      You put it exactly right on that magical look with the dolphin encounters. Nick has touched the lives of many in his 20 years. Be sure to check out the archives for more stories. The category, “The Fun Side of Nick” has got some classic Nick stories. Best and thank you for reading and following Nick’s world. 🙂

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