Thursday, August 30, 2012

Tough Moment at Home, Good First Week at School

The evening that we got back from visiting Kai’s grandparents, my wife was not feeling well so she went to bed early. So, it was time for some father-and-son bonding.

It didn’t go so well.

After his bath, I asked Kai to practice piano as he usually does with Mom. He did not want to play without Mom there to help him.

But since he had not practiced in the days we were away, I told him he had to play anyway.

He played half of one song and stopped, saying that the second half was too difficult. I encouraged him to keep playing, even if it is difficult, as it would be good to practice.

He did not like that idea.

He got mad. He pounded on the keys. He told me to go away. He said he would not play anymore.

I responded that he had lost his iPad privileges for the next morning.

That is when he really got mad.

“You are so mean! I don’t want you here. You go live somewhere else!”

After that, it took awhile, but he started to calm down. He apologized for the things he said.

I told him that it was fine to apologize, but it did not change the fact that he would not get to use the iPad. He has been getting more and more disrespectful to me and my wife, and I wanted to teach him that he couldn’t always undo that with a simple apology.

But that made him mad again.

“I hate you! You are evil! Get out of the house!”

Too often I allow his words to get me upset. On this occasion, I was determined to stay calm.

Our evening routine is that after Kai plays piano, we play a game together until it is time for him to go to bed.

On this evening, though he was mad at me, he still wanted to play a game. And with Mom sick in bed, he realized that he had no one else to turn to.

“I forgive you so you can play a game with me,” he said.

I told him that I did not want to play with someone who said such mean, hurtful things to me.

“Kai, you can play by yourself, but I am not going to play with you. You have ten minutes to play before bedtime.”

He responded, “But I don’t want to play by myself. I want you to play with me.”

I softly repeated that I did not want to play with someone who was so hurtful.

I sat quietly in the kitchen while Kai continued to try to persuade me to play with him. Every so often, I would tell him how much time he had left before he had to go to bed.

He said that we would have to get up early the next morning so that we could play together then.

I explained that it was not going to work like that. If you make bad choices, you don’t always get a chance to make up for lost opportunities later. So, you had better try to make good choices.

Soon it was time for him to brush his teeth and go to bed.

Our bedtime routine is for me to read a book with him. On this evening, I told him that he could read all by himself.

I could see that he was starting to feel more sadness than anger. So, I stayed in the room with him while he read.

When he was done reading, he apologized again. This time it felt more sincere.

I talked to him about how much Mom and I love him, but that it hurts us when he says such mean things to us.

I repeated that he would not get to use the iPad in the morning, which is a fairly big punishment for him as he loves to use it while eating breakfast. This time, he accepted it without anger.

He asked if I could stay in his room until he fell asleep. I said I would.

We said, “I love you” to each other. And then he fell asleep quickly.

The next day was his first day of school. And though he couldn’t use the iPad, he was in a surprisingly jovial mood. From several days before, he had been talking about how he did not want to go to school. But we saw none of that on this morning.

He cooperated with his morning medicines and was ready to go when his taxi arrived.

When he came home from school, he was still very happy. And so we were, too.

An email from his teacher confirmed that he had had a great day:

“…I just wanted to send you a message telling you how GREAT Kai's first day was! I can't tell you how many changes there were… that Kai handled wonderfully. I was amazed…”

He has now been back in school for one week, and every day has been consistently good. It is a remarkable change compared with the last couple weeks of summer school when he destroyed several shirts.

I don’t know if the events of the evening before he started school had any impact on his behavior at school. But I do know that he has been a lot more respectful, and happy, at home as well.

It is a nice change. It is a good start to the new school year. And I am enjoying it.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Taking the Plunge

Our son missed his swim lesson earlier in the week due to our visit with Kai’s grandparents, so he had a make-up session over the weekend. His instructor had us bring him to the house of one of his other students as they have a swimming pool.

When I later went to pick him up, Kai and the other boy were happily doing laps. They were enjoying swimming, as well as each other’s company.

The instructor, James, asked if I was in a hurry to take Kai home. He said that if we had time, he wanted Kai to try jumping off the diving board for the first time. I told him that I would love to see that.

Kai overheard us, and immediately was anxious.

“I don’t want to go on the diving board!”

“Dad, take me home now!”

I stepped back and let James handle this.

He instructed Kai to swim another lap, and then had him watch the other boy do it first. He said that Lee was scared the first time, too, but now he loves it.

Lee went off the board with no hesitation. And then it was Kai’s turn.

He was really scared.

James told him that he could first jump in from the edge of the pool. Kai is used to doing that at the place where he has his regular lessons, but this pool was eight feet deep compared to only five feet at his usual one.

After much hesitation, and a lot of instruction and encouragement from James, Kai jumped in. James pointed out how he floated back up.

Now it was time to go off the board.

It was not a high board. It was only about a foot off the ground. But I can understand how the thought of walking the plank would make Kai nervous the first time.

Kai stepped up on the board, but said he was scared. James came over and held his arm out for Kai to hold on to as he walked further out on the board. Kai was very tentative. But he slowly walked out, while holding on to James’ arm.

And then he jumped in.

He quickly surfaced and swam to the other end. Lee went over to give him a high five.

Kai had a huge smile on his face and asked how many more he could do.

He walked over to the board and did not hesitate as he leaped out over the water.

And then he did it a third time, this time with James nowhere near the board. And after that, he wanted to do it again, but it was getting late, so we had to force him to leave.

One day, Kai will dive head first into the water. But on this day that was not the objective.

My son had conquered another fear, with much help from James. And that was something to see.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Talking, Talking, Talking… About Tins

I think that parents of children with autism tend to appreciate things more than the average parent. For us, progress often comes slowly, if at all, so we never take anything for granted. In our case, this is particularly true of our son’s ability to speak.

When Kai was a small child, we weren’t sure how much he would ever be able to talk. Progress came slowly for a long time, but we now have a boy who speaks pretty well. And as we know other autism parents who would love for their child to speak even half as well as Kai, we appreciate that we are blessed that Kai has come this far.

And so it would be wrong to feel anything but elated whenever our son speaks.

But, sometimes…

On our last few days of summer break, we visited Kai’s grandparents.

It is amazing how much he interacts with them now.

Bubbe knew how Kai is now obsessed with rocks and minerals, so she gave him some sample containers including pyrite, copper, quartz, and amethyst.

In turn, Kai told Bubbe all she ever wanted to hear, and more, about rocks and minerals.

But that was nothing compared with how much talking Kai did with his grandfather.

Regular readers may recall that Papa is a collector of old tins. He has quite a collection displayed throughout the house.

About a year ago, Papa gave Kai some tins to start his own collection, and since then, every time we visit, Papa gives Kai a few more tins.

On this occasion, Papa had just returned from a trip to a collectibles show. Kai took great interest as Papa showed off his new tins and other old containers and explained their significance to Kai one by one.

It is quite cute to see Kai get excited about these old containers that some people, including, ahem, Bubbe, may consider junk. I am guessing that none of Papa’s other grandchildren are so interested.

But sometimes Kai’s enthusiasm goes too far, crossing well over the line into obsession and greed.

When Papa gave Kai a choice of five tins on the first day, Kai was happy. For about eight seconds. Then he began lobbying for more tins.

“How I can earn more tins?” he kept asking Papa.

Sometimes, he didn’t exactly ask.

“You give me tins for Hanukkah,” he said in a tone that was more demanding than asking.

Over the next couple days, Kai seemed to notice more of Papa’s tin collection than ever before. He noticed that Papa had old containers of peanut butter and popcorn and other food items.

“I don’t have any food tins, Papa. Maybe you can give me a food tin sometime.”

I told Kai that Papa had heard him so that he did not need to keep saying the same things over and over. I said that Papa knew that Kai wanted more tins, and might give him more sometime. But, I explained, he should not be greedy, and he should appreciate that Papa had already given him several tins from his collection.

I told Kai that Papa had worked hard all his life so that he could collect tins, and that it took him years to gather so many. If Kai wanted more, he should set a goal to study hard, get a good job, and earn enough money to buy his own tins someday.

Kai had a different idea.

“What happens to all the tins after Papa dies?”

Oh brother!

Everyone laughed when he said it. I did, too. It was funny to see Kai’s mind at work.

But I also tried to teach him that he shouldn’t say things like that. And I told him that Papa wasn’t going to die for a long time so he had better come up with a different idea.

Later on he declared that when he went to college, he would stay at Bubbe and Papa’s house. But the reason was not that he enjoyed being there so much, though I know he does.

No, he wanted to live there so that he could be near all of Papa’s tins.

It was great to see Kai bond with his grandfather. But is it wrong for me to want Kai to please just stop talking about tins for a few seconds?

To try to get a break from Kai’s incessant talking about tins, we played Qwirkle, a game of skill that involves matching tiles of different shapes and colors.

Kai is pretty good at the game, but lately he has become more obsessed with winning.

He got mad when someone else scored well, and when another player put down a tile in the spot he wanted for his next turn.

“Give me a chance!” he yelled.

I tried to explain that is how the game is played, and that he could still win the game if he kept searching for good places to play his tiles.

“No fair!” he screamed.

Papa told him that if he did not play nicely, the game would end. And when Kai kept whining, Papa declared the game was over.

I did not like Kai’s attitude. We are trying to teach him to accept defeat graciously and to be a good sport. But, our words don’t seem to sink in with him.

I was glad that Papa spoke up during the game. I don’t know that his words had any more effect than ours, but perhaps hearing it from his grandfather will eventually have more impact.

Later on, we played another game, Rummikub.

Kai started to get upset when things did not go his way. Papa spoke up and told Kai that he was keeping an eye on him.

Kai held his anger in check.

He did not win the game, but he did not lose his temper.

And when it was time for us to go home, Papa gave Kai one more tin for being a good boy on his last day.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

The Joy of Peanuts

When I was a boy, my sister and I had a collection of paperback Peanuts comic books. Of course, I loved A Charlie Brown Christmas and all the other Peanuts television specials. But back then, we didn’t have video on demand, dvds, or even video tapes. So, we could only watch each show once a year when they aired on network television.

The rest of the time, I got my Peanuts fix from reading the comics.

I really related to Charlie Brown. And the messages in the written form were perhaps even more poignant, and humorous, than the TV shows. I remember reading those comics over and over.

My son has been a huge fan of the Peanuts videos for many years now. I often wondered why he was so attracted to them from such a young age when they did not have as much of the outrageously silly humor that usually draws the attention of young kids.

Even now, on our weekly trips to the public library, Kai always picks out a Peanuts video to bring home, even though he has seen each one many times now.

A few years ago, my sister gave me a hardcover book that was a comprehensive collection of the best Peanuts strips. It brought back fond memories of reading those strips when I was a child.

A couple years ago, I tried reading him some of those comics to Kai. But he had only mild interest in it, and I decided to put it aside until a later date.

This week, he picked up the book on his own, and began reading it all by himself.

Every day, he sat at our kitchen table and read pages of the old comics. Sometimes he laughed, and I could tell he was enjoying them. Other times he read quietly, as I often did. We often had a hard time pulling him away from the book to do other things.

Kai often takes interest in things that are very different from the things I am interested in, and that is okay. But it is also nice to see him enjoying the things I enjoyed as a boy. Regardless, it is great to see him picking up something and reading on his own.

Thanks, Charlie Brown.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

A Lot of Anger

There were early indications yesterday that the day would not go well.

My wife was out tutoring a couple students in Japanese in the morning, so it was up to me and Kai to walk the dogs that are staying with us right now.

We hadn’t gotten too far when Kai started to complain.

“My foot is uncomfortable!” he said.

Sometimes Kai doesn’t put his socks on with the heel side down and so his feet feel tight in his shoes. I offered to help him undo his shoelaces and put his shoes on again.

He refused.

But a short while later he complained about his feet again, and did not want to walk further.

I got annoyed.

I asked what was the problem. He said his nails needed to be cut. Mom had just cut them the night before, but I said that I would cut them as soon as we got back from our walk. But I wanted the dogs to pee and get their morning exercise, so I tried to keep going.

Kai got more upset, asking me to slow down even as I thought we were walking slower than usual.

He was also clutching his groin area. He said that hurt, too.

When we saw other dogs walking by, our dogs started barking at them. I had my hands full trying to control two dogs, along with an agitated boy.

When our dogs finally peed, I turned around and headed for home. Kai was clutching the back of my shirt and pulling on it to slow me down. I told him that if he wanted to get home, he would have to let go so we could walk faster. And when he did not let go, I forcibly removed his hand from my shirt.

He got angry, but by then we were near our house so I was able to convince him to go inside and use the bathroom. But by then he had already wet his pants.

I was frustrated, but we were both able to calm down.

I cut some of his toenails, though they did not seem too long to me. And after that we had fun playing on the Wii.

But it was not the end of our conflicts for the day.

In the afternoon, when Kai came home from his speech therapy session, my wife reported that it had not gone as well like it usually does. His therapist said that something seemed off, that he seemed really tired.

While my wife was telling me this, Kai was laying on the floor in the entryway. He was yelling that he wanted someone to carry him to his bedroom.

Sometimes, when he is like this, we use humor or other methods to try to get him out of his funk. On this day, I was not in the mood for humor.

I told him that he was too heavy to carry and that he was fully capable of walking to the bedroom on his own. But he was mad, and insisted he wanted someone to carry him to his bedroom.

We left him alone. A moment later, he was ripping up the shirt he was wearing.

And that got me mad.

I took the remnants of the shirt off his back, threw it at him, and yelled at him to go to his room.

He ran to his room, calling me an evil person along the way. And soon we heard him throwing things onto the floor. When I got to his room, he had cleared the reachable shelves, throwing everything on the floor.

Kai screamed at me to leave the house. He said that he did not want me to be his dad. He said he would kill me.

He also screamed that he wanted his shirt back. I told him that he would not get a shirt to wear as long as he was angry. I grabbed all of his shirts out of his cabinet and took them away.

He tried to bite his blanket. We took that away, too.

My wife suggested that I leave the room, as Kai would not calm down until we both had a chance to cool off separately.

I went to my home office.

I needed to get a lot of work done. But it was hard to focus.

I was upset that my son had such hateful things to say to me. And while I knew that was just how Kai gets when he is angry, it was hard not to take it personally.

I also was upset with myself. As much as I try to treat Kai like a typical child, in my more introspective moments I knew that I should have used a different approach. For whatever reason, something was causing him to get agitated quickly. And I should have tried to be especially patient with him instead of getting frustrated and upset.

After awhile, I could tell it got quiet upstairs. My wife had helped Kai to calm down.

I stayed in my office until later in the afternoon, when it was time to take the dogs outside.

I went by myself.

When it was dinnertime, my wife called me through the window to come back in. Kai was talking to me as well. I understood that he had written some type of apology letter.

When I came to the table, I saw what he had created.

He had made an envelope, addressed “To: Dad or Yuji” ha!

I opened it up and saw that he had written what was enclosed, including "Gemail" and “Sorry Letter inside.”

And the next page was the letter itself:

My wife said that the letter was all his idea and creation. She had nothing to do with it.

Of course, my heart melted. My eyes misted. Whatever anger I had for the remarks he said in anger had disappeared.

But the frustration I feel toward myself remains.

I have to find a way to help my son get put aside his anger, and not get angry in turn.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Our Latest Dog

After we got back from vacation, we got another dog to sit, a dachshund named Wink.

Wink is very gentle and friendly, and we all adore her.

Kai has taken to her as well, perhaps more than with any dog we have had so far.

He even wanted to walk with her on a rainy day. And as you can see, those ponchos from Cave of the Mist came in handy.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Telling Grandparents All About It

We were on vacation last weekend so we missed our usual weekly Skype call with Kai’s grandparents in Japan. I thought we would have our next call at our regular time, but Kai did not want to wait until then to talk to them.

I was wondering what the urgency was. I should have known.

When we got Jiji and Baba online, Kai brought his entire collection of Rocks and Minerals Flash Cards that he had earned so far. He wanted to show all of them to his grandparents.

Well, he didn’t just want to show them. He wanted to read all of them.

We told him that he could read five cards. He said he wanted to read all of them.

I could see where this was headed. I could either argue with him for a long time and have all of us get upset, or I could just let him read the cards.

I gave in.

But I told him he had to read fast, and only read the most important parts.

So, for the next 20 minutes, Kai read his grandparents facts about
limestone and granite and quartz and the rest of the 30 or so rocks and minerals he had accumulated so far.

His grandparents don’t understand speak much English, and they did not understand a word he said.

But I think they were happy to see him so obviously enthused about something, and to see him talk non-stop for so long.

After he had finished reading them his flash cards, we got him to talk about our vacation. And once he started, he went non-stop on that topic, too, telling about all the highlights of our trip.

When my wife tried to translate what Kai was saying into Japanese, he told her “Mom, be quiet!”

Kai still has a lot of work to do on two-way communications, but you can see that he is getting quite verbose with his soliloquies. In a way, for a child who loves to talk but often doesn’t listen well, it is perfect for him to talk to his Japanese grandparents as it is hard for them to interrupt him with questions.

One day I hope that he will be better able to pause and listen and interact. But on this day, I thought he did just great. It was another sign of progress for a boy who once did not speak.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Niagara Falls Vacation – Day 5: Our Last Day

On our last day at Niagara, we got up early. We had to pack up, check out of our motel, and load the car. But, more importantly, we wanted to get to Cave of the Winds before it got crowded.

Cave of the Winds is a self-guided walking tour at the bottom of Niagara Gorge. The highlight is standing on a deck that is only a few feet from the crashing waters of the Falls. It is the closest you can get to the Falls, so it was something we did not want to miss.

Since the line the day before was prohibitively long, we were determined to get there early on this, our last opportunity.

Sometimes it is hard to predict how long it will take to get Kai going. But on this day, he was excited about seeing this last attraction, and our packing went smoothly. We got to Cave of the Winds 50 minutes before it opened, and were the first in line.

Now it may seem silly to wait for 50 minutes that morning when we did not want to wait long the day before. The difference was that the storm the previous night left temperatures about 30 degrees cooler than the day before. And I think it was much easier for all of us to tolerate the wait knowing the exact time we would get in, and with the knowledge that we would be served first.

When the doors opened, we walked in and got our yellow ponchos, as well as specially designed sandals (which we got to keep) that are made for stepping along on the watery decks. We also remembered to bring swim goggles for me and Kai, anticipating a similar drenching as we had on the Maid of the Mist.

Then we got in an elevator that took us down 175 feet to the bottom of the gorge.

It was great being there early as we could leisurely take our pictures without feeling like we were holding up a big crowd.

As we walked closer and closer to the Falls, we were not disappointed. The view of the Falls from below was amazing. As with Maid of the Mist, I had to put away my camera to protect it from the spray when we got to the points nearest the Falls. But you can still get an idea of what we saw from the pictures we did take.

But more than the spectacular view, I loved that Kai was enjoying this as much as my wife and I were.

When we had finished the walk, we wanted to take one last look at the Falls from the top again.

On the following picture, you can see the people in the yellow ponchos down below where we had just been.

And with that, we had completed our tour of Niagara Falls. We had ended on a truly high note.

But our sightseeing was not over yet.

We drove about 30 miles east of the Falls to Lockport, NY, which is along the Erie Canal.

We took a 70-minute guided tour. The first half takes you along the canal, with the guide telling its history and explaining how its locks work. This was Kai’s first time learning about locks, and he seemed to take interest in it.

But the part of the tour that really grabbed his interest was when we went into a man-made “cave,” which is actually a water tunnel that was blasted out of solid rock in the 1850s. The Lockport Cave was built to provide waterpower to local industries. The guide explained how it was made, and we got to see stalactites and other geological formations.

In the final portion of the tour, we rode a boat though the last part of the tunnel. Called America’s longest underground boat ride, it was what attracted us to visit here in the first place. The ride was peaceful, and we liked that it was a different experience. Kai has enjoyed going in caves before, and he liked this one as well.

During the tour, the guide periodically asked if anyone had questions. Kai did not hesitate to raise his hands several times. At first, I cringed, wondering if he would bring up some silly subject that had no relevance to the tour. But for the most part, Kai asked good questions. My favorite was when he asked whether there were any bats in the cave (which the answer was no). It was another reminder of how far his language skills have come.

When the tour ended, we began our drive toward home.

We decided to stay the night at The Lodge at Geneva on the Lake, the place where we stopped for lunch on Day 2 on the way to Niagara. You may recall that Kai protested going there at first, but later said he wanted to go there again. We loved the nice setting along Lake Erie, and we otherwise would have stayed at a non-descript motel in the middle of nowhere. So this let us have one more day where it felt like we were still on vacation.

The Lodge has two swimming pools, one indoor and one outside, and we swam in both.

And then we enjoyed dinner outside as the sun set behind the lake while we waited for our food to be served. Kai even waited nicely this time, doing the puzzles on the kids’ menu. It was quite a contrast to the tense times we had on our previous visit.

We capped off our evening with a walk along the lake, stopping here at a gazebo.

The next morning, we walked around the grounds once more and used the swimming pools for a final time.

Then, we began the rest of our drive home.

It wasn’t a long vacation, and it didn’t seem like we packed too many activities in, but we were still exhausted.

Things did not go perfectly all the time, and we have come to accept that they often won’t with us. But that doesn’t mean that it wasn’t worthwhile to have made this trip.

We traveled to a place none of us had been to before, a place everyone ought to see at least once. And we had mostly good times. We know that Kai really enjoyed the vacation, and will have fond memories for years to come.

If we had chosen not to go on vacation because of all the challenges we would encounter, we likely would never go anywhere. This trip showed that some things are worthwhile, even if it means enduring some difficult moments.

For having made this trip, we have no regrets. And that is a wonderful feeling.

See our Facebook page for photos from our entire trip

Friday, August 10, 2012

Niagara Falls Vacation – Day 4: A Tumultuous Day

On our second of the two full days we had at Niagara, we planned to visit the final two attractions on our Discovery Pass: Aquarium of Niagara and Cave of the Winds. Of the two, we thought the latter would be more exciting and a great way to wrap up our visit. We wanted to save it for last.

So, that morning, we went to the aquarium.

It has been nearly five years since we visited an aquarium with Kai. At that time, he had little interest in seeing the fish tanks and we ended up leaving in a very short time. I was curious to see if he would be more interested now.

Kai was excited about going. And when we got there, he happily took in the penguin display. And then he eagerly went from tank to tank to look at all of the fishes. He was having a great time, and even asked that I take a picture of him in the cage that is used to protect divers from sharks.

Things could not have been going better.

And then it happened.

The thing that shattered our idyllic moment.

We learned that it was nearly feeding time for the seals. It sounded like a fun thing to see, so we went over to the seal tank and waited. Feeding time came and went with no seal handlers in sight. I went to the front desk to find out what the story was.

It turned out that some other seals were being fed in a different place, at a pool outside. I also found out that not only would the seals be fed, but, for a small donation, kids could get a cup of (dead) fish to feed to the seals.

We went made our way over to the correct place.

It was crowded. Many kids were already standing in front, throwing their fish at the seals below.

It actually didn’t look all that fun to me. The fish were slimy and many of the ones being thrown in the pool sank to the bottom uneaten. The seals did not appear to be too interested to go after the fish.

There was a long line of kids still waiting to get their cups of fish. I told Kai he would have to wait, and suggested that he could instead watch the other kids feed the seals. He insisted that he would wait to get his own cup.

A little while after Kai got in line, they announced that they would not be giving out any more fish to feed as the seals are on a strict diet. The kids still in line would be out of luck.

We explained this to Kai, and he did not react well.

This is a child who has extreme difficulty handling disappointments, as his string of torn shirts from school attest to.

On this occasion, he angrily screamed that he wanted fish. Then he started yelling that he wanted to hurt the aquarium workers and the other kids. When we tried to get him to calm down, he started to hit and bite us.

It was crowded, and we could not take a chance that he might get aggressive and hurt someone else, or himself. We tried to restrain him.

My wife was eventually able to wrap her legs around his torso and legs, and got ahold of both of his wrists. Before that, though, we both got bit.

And while holding him kept him from hurting himself or others, it only increased his anger.

He was shouting many things, like he wanted a new mom and dad, that he hated the aquarium, and that he wanted to hurt people. I am sure we were getting plenty of stares, but my wife and I both focused on Kai, trying to get him to calm down.

At one point, he got quiet, and we let go. But when he threw his hat into the pool where the seals were and then moved to do the same with our water bottle, we had to restrain him again.

It seemed to take forever for him to calm down again.

When he seemed less physically aggressive, we told him that we would only let go after he agreed that he would be safe. It took awhile longer for him to say that.

We finally let go, and told him that we would go back to the motel. He said he first wanted to go back into the aquarium to see a display of various chemical elements that he had passed when we went looking for the seals. Nervously, we went back in.

He looked at the display, and stayed safe. And then we retrieved his hat. But we couldn’t wait to get out of there. We breathed a sigh of relief when we got him on the trolley to go back to the motel.

But it was only after we were back in the safety of our room that we really started to relax.

I went out looking for lunch to bring back to our room, and when I got back, Kai was in a jovial mood. My wife was still drained.

We had lunch, and took a longer break than usual that afternoon. But we still wanted to see Cave of the Winds, so we eventually headed back out.

When we got to the attraction, we saw a huge crowd of people in line. I asked a Park worker how long the wait might be, and he estimated that it was an hour and a half. There was no way Kai would tolerate this wait, especially on this hottest day yet. The rest of us probably wouldn’t either.

So, instead, we walked over to the Canadian falls to see it one more time. And even though we had seen it several times by now, we still enjoyed it.

Then we rode the trolley to Three Sisters Islands, which are just upstream from the Falls.

It is a picturesque area, with far fewer tourists than the area right at the Falls. We took in the scenery, dipped our feet in a safe area of the Niagara River, and relaxed for a moment.

By the time we got back to the motel that afternoon, my wife nearly collapsed, from both the heat and from all the stress we had endured.

I took Kai over to the swimming pool so we all could relax for a while.

But soon it was dinnertime, and we made our way over to a local restaurant that had a nice outdoor seating area.

In the middle of our meal, it started raining.

At home, Kai gets anxious every time there is a thunderstorm, even when we are in the safety of our house. Here, though we were under the cover of an awning, he was even more frightened.

At first, only a small amount of rain leaked in to where we were sitting. But then the winds picked up, the rain became a downpour, and we were caught in a thunderstorm.

Restaurant workers rolled down clear plastic “windows” around the seating area. But still the water blew in. Most of the other customers seemed fine and continued with their meals. But Kai freaked out. He started screaming that he wanted to leave. We told him this was no time to leave, but perhaps the restaurant might move us to a table inside. So then he screamed that he wanted to go inside RIGHT NOW!

I was happy that the sound of the storm muffled his screams to the other patrons.

It was hard to get the attention of the workers as they were busy sweeping the water out to the sidewalk. But we found a manager who agreed to move us inside.

Once inside, Kai quieted quickly. Which was good, because we realized that the inside of the restaurant was pretty fancy, and not the kind of place we would ordinarily go with Kai.

We slowly finished our meal, and even ordered dessert, which we don’t always do, to delay having to leave the restaurant. Kai was remarkably well behaved.

When we finally finished eating, the storm had ended. We walked back to the motel in peace.

But this tumultuous day was not quite over.

As we were relaxing in our room, getting ready for bed, we heard a very loud alarm go off in the hallway. We opened the door and heard instructions to evacuate and go outside.

Kai was excited, but, fortunately, was not scared.

He followed our instructions and we made our way down the stairs and outside to the parking lot. A motel employee soon gave an all-clear to go back in, but we waited several more minutes until we saw the fire trucks leave. Apparently it was only a false alarm.

Once back in our room, we were finally able to call it a night. Our long day was over. We were exhausted.

It probably says something about our maturity as autism parents that we did not let all the challenges we faced that day completely overwhelm us, as it might have before.

Before we fell asleep, we set our alarm clock to wake up early for one more attempt to see the Cave of the Winds. We were not done with Niagara yet.

Tomorrow – Our Last Day
See our Facebook page for photos from our entire trip

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Niagara Falls Vacation – Day 3: The Maid of the Mist and Other Adventures

Day 3 of our vacation was the first of the two full days we had to spend at Niagara. Having gotten a great first look at the Falls the night before, we all looked forward to seeing more.

We began the day with Kai and I taking our customary walk down the hallways of our motel so he could check out all the room numbers. We followed that up with breakfast in our room while watching a bit of the Olympics. Then, it was time to do some sightseeing.

Niagara Falls State Park offers a Discovery Pass that includes admission to five attractions for a discounted price. We decided to start out by heading over to the Niagara Adventure Theater to see a film about the history of the Falls before looking at it live again.

The film was a 40-minute IMAX movie that tells the stories of some of the daredevils who tight-roped across the Falls, rode over in a barrel, and even one boy who accidentally went over the Falls with nothing but a life jacket.

We got to the theater about ten minutes before the next showing. With only a few people ahead of us in line, we were glad that we would be able to see the movie without having to wait long. Unfortunately, there was some type of hangup with one of the groups ahead of us.

The attendant was alternating between looking something up on the computer and talking to the people. In the meantime, no one else was being served, and time was ticking away.

As is usually the case when he has to wait, Kai got anxious and impatient. “What is taking so long?” he grumbled. I wondered the same thing.

As it slipped past the start time of the movie, I got more impatient. A supervisor came out to help the first employee, and after awhile I was finally able to get her attention.

She let us into the theater, but the movie had already started. I doubt that we had missed anything important, but Kai did not understand that.

“I want to see the beginning of the movie!” he said somewhat loudly.

I tried to quietly explain that we did not miss anything important. That did not allay him.

“We have to see it again!”

Let’s just watch from here, I suggested.


I was getting a sick feeling that we would have to leave the theater, dragging a screaming child out with us.

But something in the movie caught his attention. He quieted down.

We ended up watching the entire movie, which he enjoyed. And by the end he had forgotten that we had missed the first few minutes.

Phew. We had averted a crisis. This time.

We next went over to ride The Maid of the Mist. Of all the attractions, I most looked forward to this boat ride that takes you up close to the bottom of the Falls.

As passengers get ready to board, each is given a blue plastic poncho to wear as protection from the mist from the Falls. We put ours on, but as the temperature was about 95 degrees, we immediately felt hot and sticky. Kai complained about how uncomfortable he was, and we took off his poncho. We told him he could leave it off and get wet if he so desired, which he said he wanted to do.

The boat first takes you to past the American Falls. You get much closer than where we viewed it the night before from the observation tower. It really is quite a sight and we all were thrilled.

Next, the boat traveled over to the Horseshoe Falls. By land, you cannot get a full view of these Canadian falls from the American side. But by boat, we saw the whole thing up close.

I do not have any photos from when we were at the closest points to the Horseshoe Falls as my camera is not waterproof and I put it away to keep from getting damaged. Contrary to the impression given by the name of the boat, the spray from the Falls here is not a mist; I’d say torrential downpour is more like it.

I was worried about how Kai would react. This is, after all, a boy who panics on the lazy river at waterparks when his inner tube floats too close to spraying water. On this occasion, he enjoyed getting wet at first. But when the drenching got really severe, he asked to put his poncho back on. Of course, he was already soaked. And he got a little upset.

But once we were out of the worst of it, I think he actually enjoyed it. Though it’s a little hard to tell from his expression here.

On the way back to the dock, we got another great look at the American Falls.

After that, we had lunch, went back to the motel, and rested up. Then we headed out for our next adventure: the Niagara Gorge Discovery Center.

The Discovery Center is a little farther away from our motel than the Falls, but still within several blocks. I considered that to be walking distance. We found out that Kai did not agree.

The intense heat likely had something to do with it, but Kai started grumbling about halfway there. By the time we were within a block, he was yelling that we should turn around and go home. Fortunately, we came within sight of the building, and, with much difficulty, we got him to continue walking the rest of the way.

The first thing we did when we entered was go to a small auditorium to view a short film. As the movie was getting started, Kai turned around and yelled at the little girl sitting behind us to “BE QUIET!”

I was mortified, and particularly upset with him considering how loud he had been at the film we saw just that morning. I grabbed him by the wrist and yanked him to turn him back around while shushing him.

He screamed about how mean Dad was, and proceeded to switch seats to the other side of Mom, away from me.

By the time the film had ended, though, we had both calmed down a little.

The Discovery Center is a small place, and there really is not much to it. If I knew more about it beforehand, I probably would have decided that it wasn’t worth the effort to go there.

But then, we would have missed out on one of Kai’s favorite places.

He found a display of rocks and minerals. And as he is obsessed with them from his flash card collection, the timing of this display was perfect.

He saw sandstone and diorite and quartz. And he loved it.

By the time we left, we were all in a good mood. And we bought tickets to ride the trolley back instead of walking in the heat. ☺

Back at the motel, we had our usual afternoon break, using the swimming pool and reading the rocks and mineral cards with Kai.

We had dinner at Hard Rock Café. The food was mediocre. But Kai seemed to like the loud music so all was good.

And after that, we rode the trolley over to Goat Island to get a look at the Horseshoe Falls from up top.

The Horseshoe Falls are much bigger than the American Falls. They are wider, and carry about 90% of the total volume of water. You can’t really see the whole thing from the top on the American side, but we had already seen all of it from the boat, and it was still impressive now.

As we had the night before, we stayed until it got dark. And we saw the light show, this time shining on the Canadian Falls.

As a bonus, we also saw the weekly fireworks show.

Sitting there next to the Falls, all of the difficulties we had that day were forgotten. We were happy we were there.

Tomorrow – A Tumultuous Day
See our Facebook page for photos from our entire trip

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Niagara Falls Vacation – Day 2: On to Niagara

We said goodbye to Mama Dell and Papa Earl after breakfast and set off for the rest of our way to Niagara Falls.

Only an hour after we departed, Kai said that he had to use the bathroom. Or rather, he started screaming that he had to use the bathroom.

I told him that it was only an hour after he went last so he should be able to hold it for a little while until I found a gas station or restaurant. He insisted that he had to go RIGHT NOW!

I pulled off the interstate at the next exit. There was no gas station or restaurant in sight. But I did see a sign for a hospital so I headed in that direction. Kai said that he did not want to go to the hospital and wanted me to find a gas station instead. I have no idea why he was so finicky about where he peed.

Against my better judgment, I got back on the highway to look for a different exit. Immediately, Kai screamed that I get off and find him a place to pee.

I took the next exit. There were still no restaurants, but I saw another sign for the hospital. We drove to it, and I dropped Kai and my wife off while I parked the car.

We were somewhere in Cleveland, and now that I looked around, I realized that we were in an area that tourists usually do not visit. When Kai had done his business, we quickly got back in the car and went on our way.

About an hour later, Kai said he was hungry and wanted to stop for lunch. It was a little earlier than I had planned on stopping, but decided to look for a restaurant when my suggestions to keep going were met with loud protests.

My wife and I conferred and we agreed that we were not in the mood for fast food. I saw a sign for place called The Lodge at Geneva On The Lake, and thought that it sounded like a nice spot.

According to the sign, it was about 8 miles off the highway. When I passed up the McDonald’s that was right next to the highway, Kai started to complain.


His protests got more vociferous as we kept driving. He said he was hungry and wanted to eat RIGHT NOW! In the 10 minutes or so that it took to drive to the lodge, his anger grew immensely.

At the restaurant, we asked for a seat outdoors, while Kai yelled that he wanted to sit inside. The air conditioning inside was running too high, so we decided to take a table outside despite Kai’s protests. We had a beautiful view of Lake Erie (and yes, that is a genuine statement with no sarcasm.)

But it was hard to enjoy the scenery.

Kai kept complaining about everything. This was a bad restaurant, he said. He did not want to eat here, he kept repeating. I was tense, wondering if he would cause a big enough scene that we would be forced to leave.

After ordering our meal, my wife suggested to Kai that they take a walk, which he finally agreed to. They found a bench close to the lake. I wondered if Kai was starting to cool off. My wife kept turning around to check to see if our food had arrived, but fortunately it took a long time. By the time lunch was served, Kai had calmed down and they rejoined me at the table.

Kai’s mood had become jovial. “This is a great place,” he said. “We should come here again!”

He even let us take a walk around the grounds after lunch.

After that, we drove the rest of the way to Niagara. Kai’s favorite part of the drive was crossing the border into New York. His least favorite was the traffic on the toll bridge leading to the Falls area.

We checked in at the Holiday Inn. It was not luxurious by any means, but it fit our budget, and, most importantly, was about as close to the American Falls as any motel. We would be able to walk to the main sightseeing spots.

At any motel we stay at, Kai looks forward to seeing how many floors it has. He also loves to walk up and down the hallway of each floor to see all the room numbers. On this occasion, I got him to wait until the next morning to do so, as he wanted to use the swimming pool right away.

Besides looking at room numbers, Kai loves going to motel pools with Mom and Dad. It wasn’t a large pool, but it served its purpose.

Then we took quick showers and went to find a spot to have dinner.

An oddity of the area is the number of Indian restaurants there. There are no McDonald’s or Burger Kings, no Applebees or Olive Gardens, but there are five or six Indian restaurants nearby. We later noticed quite a few Indian tourists, so there must be something about the Falls that attracts visitors from India.

My wife and I like Indian food on occasion, but were not sure if Kai would eat any. He had never had any before. We also were not sure if the dishes would meet his GFCF diet (gluten-free, dairy free), but we figured there would at least be tandoori chicken.

We asked Kai if he was willing to try some Indian food, and when he said he would we chose the closest place.

Amazingly, they did not have any tandoori chicken on their buffet, or any satay as well. But the dishes they had were tasty. And Kai willingly tried several items without a fuss. After our lunch experience, I considered this a victory on many levels.

After dinner, we walked over to the falls. Niagara Falls is on the U.S.-Canada border and is split into two main parts – the Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian side, and the American Falls. We did not have a passport for Kai so we would stay on American soil. You can still see parts of the Canadian falls from the U.S. side, but on this first night, we went over to where we could get a good look at the American Falls.

Even before reaching the Falls, we could feel its power as we walked along the rapids of the Niagara River.

I was struck by the amount of water that was rushing down the river, and when we came upon the Falls, we felt the power of the water dropping over the edge. Relatives who have visited the falls have all commented about how spectacular it is. But until you see it for yourself, it is hard to appreciate its beauty and power. It was quite a feeling to be able to stand only a few feet away, to see it so closely, and to feel the spray of the mist. And it was especially nice when Kai seemed to enjoy it as much as we did.

After that, we walked over to the observation tower where we could get a better view of the entire American Falls.

And then we sat and waited for it to get dark.

Every night, colorful bright lights are shone on the Falls. And when the light show started, Kai got really interested.

This boy loves colors. And as the color changed, he kept commenting. “It’s red.” “Now it’s blue.” “I like yellow.”

The pictures do not do it justice. You’ll have to take my word that it was both exciting to see the colors, and calming to sit outside on this nice evening, listening to the sounds of the Falls.

I could have stayed all night. And we did stay for quite awhile. But as it got late, we eventually went back to our motel.

There was a crowd waiting for the elevators at the motel. When the next elevator came, we squeezed on.

The door shut. And then nothing happened. The elevator did not move. The doors would not open. It was hot. It was crowded.

Someone commented that there might be too many people on board. Kai saw the sign that said the capacity was ten people. He counted. We had 11.

He started to get anxious. We tried to keep him calm.

It was not pleasant being on a hot, crowded elevator, but that would be nothing compared to the agony of being on it with a screaming boy.

Somehow, Kai managed to stay calm enough for several minutes. And in that time, the elevator finally moved. When the doors opened in the basement, we got out and walked up the six flights to our room. And we never boarded a crowded elevator for the rest of our stay there.

The elevator was a bit symbolic of our up and down day. We had some bumpy moments. But in the end, we survived. And we were happy to be at Niagara Falls.

Tomorrow – The Maid of the Mist, and Other Adventures
See our Facebook page for photos from our entire trip

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