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


  1. Wow...all of you had a rough day. Not even the weather cooperated. I more fully understand your anxiety when faced with delays at public areas. It makes all of your efforts to show Kai new adventures all the more honorable. Both, you, and your wife, have a deep heart. Kai is so fortunate to have both of you on his side. I am sure he will come to treasure your dedication to him, as the years go by, and as he matures.

    1. Going in public with Kai, we are never fully relaxed. Even when everything is going well, we are well aware that things could change quickly. But we still want to give him new adventures. And we have become more experienced in both proactively trying to reduce incidents like these from happening, and in dealing with them when they do.

      Thank you for your kind thoughts!

  2. Oh my! I'm exhausted just reading about your day. Of course I can totally relate. Sigh! Now you really have me curious about tomorrow's post! haha.

    1. Kai is still small enough so that we can, with some effort, restrain him. But we worry that if he still is quick to anger when he is older and bigger, it will be difficult to take him out in public as much. And I know you can relate to that, too, Betsy.

  3. I am so impressed with Kai's ability to continue the day after The Aquarium!! I am the most amazed by parents that can move past previous stressful experiences! I believe that we would have been done for the day! So much challenged your family that day and it speaks to your strength and determination! The public restraint part would have been hard-I bet that was worrisome!

    1. We were grateful that he was able to recover, and that we were, too. :)

      Yes, the public restraint was really hard in a lot of ways, not the least of which was that it increased his anger and made it seem like it would go on forever.

      Thanks, Kelly.


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