A Review of The Florida Aquarium, and a Special Event they’re hosting soon

I am currently researching all of the aquariums in all of Tampa Bay. I’m interested in aquariums because we took Kyle pretty recently to the largest aquarium in Tampa Bay.

The Florida Aquarium, located in Tampa, sits in between Port Tampa and Channelside, the shopping mall-like cluster of restaurants and shops.

When we went to the Aquarium in early March, it was so crowded in the animal viewing area where they were going to show the penguins. He was anxious. About the dark, about not being able to see the penguins. Then, another animal handler showed up at the back of the area. We were so glad for that. He got a good look at the penguin she was holding. So that was a plus. As were the two screens that were in the front of the standing-room only theater. But Kyle couldn’t see those easily, he had to be hoisted up by his dad.

He was anxious while visiting some of the other areas, as well. He tried not to be. I could tell. But, he did ask to go back. That made me smile.

It’ll have to wait, though. Even though we’ll be too busy with something else in two weeks there is an upcoming event being held there for special needs kids.

On May 4th, there will be a special event held just for kids with autism and similar sensory issues. The event is a result of the partnership held between the Florida Aquarium and C.A.R.D. USF and is called “A Day of Discovery.” C.A.R.D. is the Center for Autism And Related Disorders, and is

From the hours of 8:00 a.m. and 9:30 a.m., special activities and animal interactions are planned just for our kids.

This will be beneficial to all of these kids, because they won’t have to be jostled in a crowd in order to see the animals, in addition to reducing their stress levels because of the reduction of the noise level. As we know, kids with Autism Spectrum are very sensitive to sounds.

While the event ends at 9:30, guests of the Day of Discovery event are invited to extend their stay afterwards, and attend any part of the Aquarium, including the water park, Explore a Shore. This splash zone is a zero-depth water park and play area.

Admission for the event is $5 before, and $8 at the door. Tickets can be purchased ahead of time by calling 813-273-4000, ext. 4255.

In addition, you can prepare your child in advance for their trip by visiting their website and showing them pictures of what the building looks like, and some of the animals. I did that, even though he’d been there before. It’s still a good idea to do that, to lessen anxiety about knowing where he’s going.

But, there’s more on their website than I noticed before.

On the Explore the Aquarium section of their website, www.flaquarium.org, the Aquarium has an Accessibility page that includes information for those with autism. There are social stories (wish I’d known that!).

One is a booklet and is called “A Visit to The Florida Aquarium.” It’s got a lot of information about what to expect while visiting the exhibits, and even explains to the child how to ask for things he or she needs. Then there are four social stories for specific areas and tours the Aquarium provides.

Wow, when we do go back, we’ll have to use these.

TTFN, Heather

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Kyle’s Basketball Season is over…

Kyle’s done with Basketball. He had his award ceremony over the weekend. He was looking forward to the party, as were most of the kids, of course. Mostly, though, he wanted cake. 🙂

Kyle’s done extremely well. One coach told us a week ago he’s made so much progress, partly because one older player, Joey, has taken him under his wing, and partly because Kyle now knows the drill–literally! He knows what the routine is, and what to do, when. That’s important for Kyle. He needs to know what’s expected of him.

Here’s the “drill”: They start with a warm-up, in which they practice dribbling, and then they practice shooting baskets (Kyle uses a shorter practice goal, as he’s too small for the regular basketball goals). Then, all the kids split up, and half of them go on each side of the court. Then these two teams are split again, according to ability. Then the proper drills start. Players take turns dribbling the ball across the court. Then they spend the rest of the remaining time playing basketball games. The players take frequent breaks, so that they have these mini quarters.

Today, after a quick warm-up and stretch, they separated into their usual teams, and proceeded to have a proper game, with scoring on the lighted score board. The kids were excited about that! Especially with the timer going off when each quarter was finished. They would count down from the last ten seconds (Kyle covered his ears, as he doesn’t like loud sounds).

It was quite an exciting game. Some of the players were running full-tilt, doing layups and rebound shots (see? I’m learning the lingo). Kyle made a goal on the first try. The final score was, I believe, 40-39. I was very proud. Especially as this was his first-ever proper, scored game. Most of the teams he’s been on are more relaxed about some of the rules. As long as they’re learning the basic skills, some of the teams for kids with disabilities don’t worry about keeping score.

The basketball program is run by the Pasco County Parks and Recreation Department. In 1999, Parks Director Mike Buckman and his wife wanted to find a basketball league for their son Ricky, so that he could learn to play. There wasn’t one, so they started one. They had helped Jim Scheuerman start his Clearwater Little League Challenger League, so Jim helped them start the basketball league.

Today, the program boasts 34 members, and Rick still coaches. At the ceremony, they boasted about a volunteer coach who has been involved with the program from the start, since she was in high school. She has since gone to college and law school, and now has a job with the state, or something like that. Now that’s dedication.

The players are also very dedicated. Many were talking excitedly about playing next year, and about all of the other activities they’re involved with. Some of them started playing basketball back in 1999, and are still playing.

There is no specific age range for eligibility into the program. “It’s an ability sort of thing,” Buckman said.

If anyone is interested in getting their child involved in this program, they can contact the J. Ben Harrill Recreation Complex at (727) 934-4198.

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I’ve been volunteering for a couple of months now at Horsepower for Kids, a local nonprofit horse barn and so much more.

It’s great, in that I get my animal fix there. And there are so many animals! I also get to work outdoors, which I like. I have always been an outdoor person. It feels good to volunteer, and especially to take care of animals. It really helps me to de-stress.

And the other volunteers are so great, too. There are so many nice people who work hard to make Horsepower a great place to visit.

Horsepower For Kids is a 501 C(3) nonprofit organization that is part horse barn, part petting zoo and home to all kinds of animals.

A lot of the animals at Horsepower have been rescues. There are many animals there that people have tried to keep as pets, then realized they couldn’t keep them. For example, there are a couple of wolf dogs. Their owners had bred them, wanting pets. But they couldn’t keep them, so they found Horsepower. The wolf dogs howl a lot.

A lot of the rescues are exotic animals, like lemurs, snakes, iguanas and parrots. They have a lot of parrots.

The parrots were some of the first animals Kyle ever met there at Horsepower. He likes parrots. Actually, he likes animals of all kinds. Which comes in handy when we go to Horsepower as a family!

Lots of different families would enjoy visiting the farm.

It’s even disability-friendly, so the enjoyment of seeing farm animals would not be hampered by non-access. First, there’s a new, handicapped-only parking spot, all proper.

Then, there are lots of boardwalks located around the farm, so there is access to the Nursery, where there are chicks, rabbits, and other cute fuzzy animals, the birds and parrots, turtles, and ducks. Oh, and there’s a pig named Chi Chi near there who loves attention.

Plus, there is a boardwalk that leads to the lake, so that someone with mobility problems could have access to watch the swans and ducks that call that lake home.

The volunteers are always improving the boardwalks.

Armando Gort, the farm’s founder, told me recently they plan on adding more boardwalks so that there will be some in the back of the lake as well. There will be boardwalk circling the lake. Gort also said the reason they put the boardwalks in is to make the facility more accessible to those with disabilities. They have had kids come from Paul B. Stephens, a Pinellas County public school for kids with disabilities, for field trips for years.

They are selling memorial boards for $50 each to fund the building of the boardwalks.

Here’s another interesting disability-related bit of information: Horsepower also hosts an annual Summer Camp for kids with autism. The local nonprofit Warriors for Autism holds this camp in June, July and August.

Those who are animal lovers know how expensive taking care of animals can be. So Horsepower holds fundraising events to help fund the care and feeding of the animals. They host two fundraisers during the year.

Horsepower For Kids’ Fifth Annual Spring Fest takes place this weekend, March 28th and 29th, and Saturday April 4th from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. There will be pony rides, hay rides, a bounce house, and baby bunnies, chicks and ducks to pet. There will also be face painting, outdoor games and an egg hunt. The Easter Bunny will also make an appearance for photos.

Cost is $6 for adults and $10 for children. Concessions available at a reasonable rate. Located at 8005 S. Racetrack Rd., Tampa. For more information or directions to the farm you can visit http://www.horsepowerforkids.com or call 813-855-8992.

We can’t wait!

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My Peter Pan

(I haven’t posted in a long time. Trying to get back in the spirit of things by trying something a little different. Thinking about the broadcast of “Peter Pan Live” got me thinking, and remembering things.)

I have been in love with the character and story of Peter Pan ever since I can remember.

I saw a stage version on TV when I was a girl, and loved it. I do believe it was the version with Mia Farrow from the mid-70’s. It’s on YouTube.

NBC broadcasted the original musical production with Mary Martin. She may have come out of retirement to do that. And maybe they broadcasted the same musical version with Sandy Duncan. I’m not sure. Both of these are on youtube as well.

Then in high school, I was involved with a production of Peter Pan (the original musical version). I wasn’t in it, I just worked behind the scenes. But the experience of it re-ignited a spark.

I ended up writing a research paper on Mary Martin for a theater class. Then, as an adult I researched J.M. Barrie and found the novelization he wrote. I like to pull it off the self and read it about once a year. So, I know the story and characters well. In fact I do remember that this month will be the 110th anniversary of the first performance of the original play, “Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Would Not Grow Up.”

Fast-forward to a few years after that, and I discovered that my young son had autism. It took some time to re-discover him and his abilities and gifts.

He, I know, will have a hard time with growing up. Kids with autism have a very hard time moving on.

I have called him “My Little Peter Pan” in my mind. He even has an elvish look about him. Especially when his hair starts to grow out.

He looks like a classic picture of a boy fairy, with his ringlets framing his fine features.

I’m not sure how much Kyle will grow up. But until then, he’ll be “My Little Peter Pan.” And I’ll love him for it.

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A different kind of baseball

 This Monday was Kyle’s last day of Fall Ball, which is a clinic of sorts for his baseball league, which prompted thoughts on this experience (warning: somehow this came out sounding sort of like a poem ;0 ). How to sign up for the regular season is explained below. 



Kyle loves baseball. 

He loves playing with his dad.


Who is a coach. Who coaches Kyle’s team.

Which never loses. There is no score.


They do this for the kids. Who never care.

The kids are just glad they are playing.


Because other kids do it, too. Their siblings, their  friends. 

They play baseball.


Lackadasical rules help them with their hits. However many pitches it takes to hit the ball. Or hit it further, depending on their ability.


For some, this is therapy (That’s how I look at Kyle’s experience with baseball. Because he can work on his social skills. Also,  it’s that he actually plays with other kids. Sort of).


For others, it’s play. 


Play ball!



Clearwater Little League Challenger Baseball’s regular season is from February to approximately late April. Age range is ages 6 to approximately 25. If anyone is interested in signing their children up, please call Clearwater Little League’s Challenger Division Vice President Jim Scheuerman at 727-441-9047, or email him at clearwaterchallengerbaseball@gmail.com.  


The 2014 season will be played at Sid Lickton Field, at 714 Saturn Ave., Clearwater, which has recently undergone renovations.

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Follow up to Travel Spotlight: Clearwater Marine Aquarium

Last week, I posted on the Clearwater Marine Aquarium.

Over the weekend, the Clearwater Marine Aquarium released the following information:

The production company that made Dolphin Tale got the green light to make a sequel to the movie that put the Clearwater Marine Aquarium on the map.

Here’s some info on it, straight from the CMA’s website:

Alcon Entertainment has greenlit Dolphin Tale 2, a follow up to its successful 2011 Warner Bros release, it was announced by co-founders and co-CEOs Andrew Kosove and Broderick Johnson.

The entire cast of Dolphin Tale will reunite for the sequel, including Harry Connick Jr., Morgan Freeman, Kris Kristofferson, Ashley Judd, Nathan Gamble and Cozi Zuehlsdorff, among others. Charles Martin Smith (Dolphin TaleAir Bud) has written the screenplay and will again direct.

The fact-based adaptation Dolphin Tale was originally brought to Alcon by the Company’s President Of Worldwide Marketing, Richard Ingber, who also produced, and will serve as a producer on the sequel.

Dolphin Tale 2 tells another true story inspired by the life of the rescued bottle nose dolphin, Winter, this time involving a new baby dolphin named Hope who was also saved and rehabilitated by the Clearwater Marine Aquarium in 2010.

Filming for Dolphin Tale 2 will begin in Clearwater, Florida in October of this year. Distributor Warner Bros is setting September 19, 2014 release date.

Winter, who still resides at the Aquarium, played herself in the original film and returns in “DT2.” Hope will play herself in the sequel.

“We are thrilled to be working with David Yates and the Clearwater Marine Aquarium again. The fact that there is another inspirational story to be told regarding Winter is almost more than a filmmaker could ask for,” Kosove and Johnson stated.

 TTFN, Heather
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Travel Spotlight: Clearwater Marine Aquarium

I recently posted about the Florida Aquarium, in which I reviewed the aspects of it that either helped or didn’t help my son’s experience. Now, I haven’t been able to take him to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium yet, but I wanted to mention it here.

The other, more famous aquarium: Clearwater Marine Aquarium

In the spring, I wrote on my son’s experiences with visiting the Florida Aquarium. At a friend’s request, I now write a follow-up to that post with this one, even though we haven’t had a chance to actually visit yet. Here goes.

Winter, the dolphin with the prosthetic tail, is so famous that people come to visit her  from all over the world. The Clearwater Marine Aquarium is now known as the home of Winter the dolphin.

This is a local resource for those families with a family member with disabilities. Visiting winter is a life-changing experience for these kids.  They see that because Winter tried very hard, and practiced exercising with her prosthetic tail, she can use the tail well, and be like other dolphins. So maybe they can be like other kids.

My son and I have been reading the book Winter’s Tail: How One Little Dolphin Learned to Swim Again, by Juliana Hatkoff, Isabella Hatkoff, and Craig Hatkoff. In it, the authors talk about how Winter seems to have an effect on those who visit her. Children who have prostheses, veterans who have them as well. And there was one little girl who came to see winter who didn’t want to wear a hearing aid until after she met Winter.

The 2011 movie Dolphin Tale that was based on Winter’s story has helped the aquarium expand their facilities, which now also host new residents of the aquarium, such as another recently rescued dolphin named Hope.

Which seems to be a great name for a dolphin that has been rescued. That seems to represent the attitude that surrounds the staff and facilities of the Clearwater Marine Aquarium. That seems to rub off on the people who visit. Especially the children with disabilities that come and are inspired by Winter’s story.

The story of a missing tail, the hard work and perseverance of a young dolphin, and an international spotlight that still shines on this special place.


The Clearwater Marine Aquarium


249 Windward Passage

Clearwater, FL 33767

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Travel Post: A Theme Park in the Southeast U.S. Changes their Disability Access Policy

I love theme parks. Have done since I can remember. I love taking my son to them, when we can afford it. But I read something today about a place in the Southeast U.S. that really got my goat. So I just had to post.

Carowinds, a theme park in North Carolina, has changed its wait policy for families with disabilities.

The original policy, which allowed families of children with disabilities to skip waiting in lines and go to the front to board a ride immediately (this has been used with success in many locations, including Busch Gardens in our area here in Tampa Bay), has been changed to providing these families with a boarding pass, which would be used to come back to an attraction at a specific time, depending on the average wait time for the ride.

So they would have to come back to a ride.

Cedar Fair, the company that owns the theme park, issued an emailed statement to this regarding the new policy, in which they state that the policy was created “in an effort to provide all of our guests with equal opportunity and access.”

In my opinion, this “Boarding Pass Program” will not be a good accommodation for families, especially for those families who only have one parent. What will happen when the kid gets to the ride and realizes that he still has to wait?

For those kids who are at a developmental level of a three-year-old or less, he or she WILL have a meltdown. They literally do not understand the concept of waiting. I’ve been there.

Also, they are taking the point of view that some take regarding access, like those with not-so-obvious disabilities, like ADHD. That providing access for them makes it unfair for the other kids.

Which is the opposite of true. It levels the playing field.

While we have not yet had a chance to go to this park, we would have loved to, as it is within a comfortable driving distance from my brother’s home in Gastonia, North Carolina. But even if we do make the drive to my brother’s house this summer before school starts, I’m not sure we would go to the park. And not just for cost reasons.

For sanity’s sake.


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