An Aspie’s Video Tour of Clearwater Marine Aquarium

I almost didn’t publish this video, but on reflection, I decided it was really important to highlight what things look like through the eyes of a child on the Autistic Spectrum.

Neil has Asperger’s Syndrome and Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. He really wanted to do his own video tour of Clearwater Marine Aquarium. At first, I wanted to hold the camera and follow him around and interview him. But he insisted on doing it himself.

You may not be actually able to watch this video in its entirety (i.e., motion sickness, galore). You’ll see how quickly he moves, and most of the time, the camera is trained on the floor or on other people’s legs. But there are snatches of times when Neil focuses on the animals and tries to interact with them, particularly Winter the Dolphin.

Be aware that this video was taken on a full dose of his medication.

You will also hear Neil’s speech impediment. He has difficulty pronouncing his Rs, and that has been a source of bullying for him.

The reason I feel it’s important to post this is that those on the Autistic Spectrum are rarely, fully understood. Neil has a very high IQ and made straight As during the past academic year. However, you will see the world through his eyes — a rushed blur, where we move very quickly from one thing to the next. The difficult thing, for me, as his mother, is knowing that *he* knows about his challenges. He realizes that he relies heavily on medication to function like the rest of the world. And yet, even with the medication, you’ll see that he definitely is not like other kids.

This further underscores why a place like Clearwater Marine Aquarium is so great for a kid like Neil. This is a place where he has seen that a dolphin without a tail is a superstar and that even though she’s not human, she has overcome so many challenges. He is inspired by her story, and this has fueled his own determination to succeed. He loves to see Winter, because she is a constant reminder to him that no matter what is faced in life, it is possible to survive and thrive.

I actually don’t expect anyone except for family members to watch this video all the way through, and like I said earlier, I almost didn’t post it. But if by seeing even a part of it, you glimpse the world through the eyes of someone on the Autistic Spectrum, I hope it will open your own eyes to how a child like Neil operates.

I hope it will open your own eyes to the beauty of a child’s wonderment and awe and the inspiration that a dolphin has sparked in that child’s mind and heart.

Darth Vader, Spiderman and Wolverine Battle Stingrays … and a Dolphin

I have to be honest with you.

I really did not think my kid was going to have a great time at Clearwater Marine Aquarium this year. I wasn’t saying it publicly, because I knew a lot of people were checking here for updates on our visit … and frankly, I was afraid that we wouldn’t have a positive story to report.

That’s because we’d just come off of a raucous week at Disney World, Universal Studios and Lego Land. And let me tell you — we did it ALL. We were up by 6:30 a.m. every day, hitting the ground running (literally — you have to run to Space Mountain if you want to beat the hour-long-or-longer wait) … and there were some days that we stayed at the parks for a full 12 to 13 hours. We didn’t stop.

On top of that, it was my kid’s birthday last week, and he’d chosen his destination celebration place as Disney Hollywood. We got into the “Jedi Academy” that day, and he battled Darth Vader on a stage with light saber moves that (I thought) would have put Luke Skywalker to shame.

And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention momentous meetings with his favorite super heroes at Universal, Spiderman and Wolverine.

The list was endless.

After such a week, was it even possible that a dolphin could hold his interest? If you put Darth Vader, Spiderman and Wolverine in a ring against sea water animals at an aquarium … who would win the battle of charming the child?

But as soon as we walked into Clearwater Marine Aquarium, I wondered to myself why I had even worried.

The reason that this place is so great for children is that here, your kids do get to interact up close with creatures they normally would never see. We paid an extra $5 for Neil to feed stingrays. At our 10:30 a.m. appointed time, we stood at the tank with everyone else while an aquarium staff member lectured about the myths surrounding stingrays, as well as what to do when you pet them (did you know that they’re slimy because they’re covered in a filmy substance akin to Neosporin, which protects them from infection?) … and how to feed them. Then the moment of truth came: Neil was given two fish to feed the stingrays. I have to hand it to him. I never would have picked up one of those fish, much less put my arm into the water and waited for a stingray to snatch it out of my fingers. But he was such a trooper and waited patiently (albeit nervously) while the stingrays circled his arm and then deftly yanked the fish away.

I thought back to two years ago, when we were at that same tank, and Neil didn’t want to leave. He loved watching the stingrays glide through the water. Their motion was so calming, and they actually do interact with the children, lifting their “wings” to touch tiny fingers dipping into the water.

What also surprised me was how the dolphins were also still just as fascinating as they were a couple of years ago. The tweeting/chirping of Winter and the playful antics of the younger dolphin, Hope, were so pleasant and enriching. Just to be near these beautiful animals is an enriching opportunity.

We actually spent seven hours at the aquarium and the downtown museum filled with movie props.

That’s right.

Seven hours.

What did we do there, you may ask?

Absolutely nothing … nothing but enjoy the interactions with some of the most beautiful animals on our planet.

It reminded me of how we chide our children today about playing outside … how we say things like, “When I was your age, I caught lightning bugs and rode bicycles and played hide and seek and climbed trees. Step away from the video game and go outside!” My child in particular fights this like crazy. So I honestly thought that after the high-tech entertainment we’d experienced at the theme parks, plus the excitement of meeting super heroes and villains alike, there would be no way he’d enjoy his visit with Winter like he did before.

Boy, was I wrong.

Not only did he enjoy it … but he was the one begging for “five more minutes” when I announced it was time to go.

Who knew that stingrays and a dolphin would kick Darth Vader, Spiderman and Wolverine to the curb?

Tomorrow we’ll talk about some of the changes to the aquarium! Stay tuned!

And here’s a photo of Neil with the stingrays.Image

 

“Dolphin Tale 2” Is Coming Out! (And We’re Returning to Clearwater!)

We are so excited!

We just saw the preview for “Dolphin Tale 2,” which is coming out this fall … and the star of the show is Baby Hope!

Hope is the dolphin you see pictured with Neil in the banner of this blog. On our day for our photo shoot, we’d discovered Winter no longer did the photos, but Hope was the chosen dolphin for that day. Hope is a carefree dolphin — and I know that dolphins are carefree and playful by their very nature, but this dolphin is so full of personality.

When we saw the preview, we gave each other high fives in the theater, and Neil shouted, “We have to go back!”

So yes, we’ll be headed back down to Clearwater this summer to see how the aquarium has changed and also to see any updates with how the second movie was filmed there. It should be tons of fun! We can’t wait to see our “friend” Winter and her friends again.

Stay tuned for more!