Posts Tagged ‘Wildwood Crest NJ’

Taking A Special Needs Child On a Beach Vacation, The Results Are In: Come Along With Me to the Fireworks Show

If you’re like me, you like to scan the fine print and skip right to the results. When I was younger I did this on my SATs and GREs, and now I read James’s evaluation results and even my bills this way. Only then do I go back and read the details, especially if the results are unexpected. Like my Sprint bill – I can never figure out how the heck the number got so high.

So I’ll save you the trouble and give you the results first. Below is the original list of vacation goals for James from Part 1 (see Taking A Special Needs Child On A Beach Vacation, Part 1), with the outcome beside each one.

1. Dip foot into the ocean. Even a toe. Goal met.

2. Go down one water slide, even a small kiddie slide. Goal met!

3. Wear life jacket and board one water vessel. Goal met!!

4. Go back on the ferris wheel. Goal met!!!


Last week we picked James up from school, dumped his stuff in the living room and headed for the car. Of course, I could not resist a quick peek at his final report card. It was his best yet – with the exception of his abysmal math scores James had improved in every area, and even moved up to grade level in Reading. As an added feel-good bonus he brought home an award for Most Positive Attitude – for us this was every bit the success the report card was. Our goals for James all revolve around life skills rather than grades at this point, and what better life skill to excel in than a positive attitude?


James has obviously been slacking off in this department and fear scores were much lower than anticipated. Here is the list of phobias and their most recent grades:

Fireworks, or any popping noise in general – B. Fireworks are really quite high on the phobia list. They still required a great deal of coaxing, convincing, explaining and distracting to get James to come with us so they continue to score high as a fear factor. But for the FIRST time ever, we made it through a 4th of July fireworks display with no screaming or running away. Just a whimper here and there and hands over eyes when things got “intense.” Thank you, noise-isolating earbuds – we owe you one.

Life Jackets – D. Tsk, tsk, life jackets. Who would have thought that all of your power lay in a name and a color? Instead of the bright orange life jacket offered by many waterparks and water vessels, we purchased a lightweight, dark blue one ahead of time and renamed it a “boat coat.” We then explained to James that they were totally different from each other. Accepted without question, he wore it out on the Atlantic Ocean.

Balloons – A+. Balloons, there is little room for improvement, truly. On the boardwalk, James would guess where the “pop the balloon with a dart” games would be and run screaming in the other direction. It was very much like the Central Park scenario (see my post about balloon vendors in Central Park) but worse because the balloons pulled sneak attacks, intermingled with all of the other boardwalk games that James loves. Dirty trick, balloons, but well-played.

Getting his ears wet, or basically getting wet above the neck – D-. Upon arrival at the first hotel, we changed into swimwear and headed down to their small but attractive saltwater pool. The depth ranged from 6 inches to 4 feet, so we felt safe ignoring James while acclimating the babies to the water. James informed me, “I went underwater, mom.” I turned, expecting to see the usual “dip his chin in the water and pretend like he went under routine” and was shocked to see him plunge his entire face in the water for 2-3 seconds. By the end of the week, James was putting his entire head, INCLUDING HIS EARS, under water for a couple of seconds. Without encouragement or convincing, though you would have thought we won the lottery the way we were congratulating him afterward. Ironically, he still doesn’t like it when the shower water gets in his ears, hence the D- instead of a full blown F.

Amusement Park Rides – C-. Ride fear lost points when James went on a much scarier ferris wheel with only a medium amount of cajoling as well as two other adult rides with me and Ryan. He also tried 3 different water slides at the waterpark – a new record! But phobias fought back when my 2 yr old could not get James to go on the baby rides with her unless Ryan or I went too. Come on, those little trucks do not steer off of the track.

Water with waves in it, like a wave pool or ocean – D. The beach at Wildwood is huge – the biggest beach I have ever seen. Even on the holiday weekend, it never seemed to get too crowded and there was always plenty of space to pitch our tent. Another neat thing is that it stays shallow for quite a ways out into the water, so the waves don’t get huge for a good 20-30 feet out. Our first day at the beach I convinced James to come help me fill some buckets with water, and once he was close enough he seemed to realize how gentle it was. A few hours later he was fighting “water dogs” (don’t ask, I didn’t) and was up to his waist flinging buckets of water at each approaching wave. He only got nervous a few times if a wave hit him above the waist but would soon after agree to come back in the water. The last night as we were packing up, he actually kept “accidentally getting sand on his hands” so that he would have to go back and wash them off in the water again. Who are you and what have you done with my son? D instead of F because of several anxiety attacks when the waves got too big, including a few terror-induced races back to the tent – the fear isn’t quite dead but definitely on life support.


Self Care – A-

Now I’m just bragging. James slept in his own bedroom (separated by a sliding door left slightly ajar) without complaint. He was well-mannered and by far the best behaved in all dining facilities. And best of all, James had no accidents for the entire vacation. This is nothing short of a miracle.

Special Skills – A

On our way out of town we went parasailing on the Atlantic Ocean. After such a show of bravery all week I thought our chances were good. Ryan went alone and James and I flew tandem. James had a blast! He seemed more worried about potentially trading his boat coat for a life jacket than the fact that we were going to be 350 feet into the air. It was like floating on a cloud – though not an obvious choice for special needs children I highly recommend trying this activity out as a family. Very gentle, quiet and peaceful. And the view was unbelievable!

Music – A+

July 4th we celebrated our very first fireworks display with James. Let me be clear, we have brought James nearly every year to see the fireworks. But “celebrate” has never really been the word to describe how it went – in the very best of times it involved one of us holding our hands over James’s ears while he screamed and cried. Some of the worst years we couldn’t even put the fireworks on the TV without a dramatic panic attack. Last night James wore his noise-isolating earbuds with some rock music playing. Though incredibly anxious about the fireworks, he managed to get through the entire show and even watched about half of it. He was so proud of himself for staying through the show and equally excited that the earbuds “worked” the way he thought they should.

On the way back to the apartment I sang the first few lines of “God Bless America,” and James said “Oh, I know a good song too.” He proceeded to sing an elaborate song of his own creation, titled “Come Along With Me To The Fireworks Show.” It was the best song ever.


I am unbelievably excited about how our vacation went for James, and feel so proud of him. Yet, like the ferris wheel (Another Day, Another Milestone), it is impossible to convey how extraordinary these moments are in James’s life, let alone a week full of them. It seems only appropriate that my 100th post on The Foorce is dedicated to his amazing progress, appreciating the incredible effort it took to get here and feeling optimistic about what the results will be 100 posts from now.

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