Kyle used to say, “I love fishing.” He learned that phrase from a license plate frame. Even today, he uses that sentence structure to produce a sentence when asked.
So when we told him we were going fishing, he was excited. When we asked him what we were doing on Saturday, he said, “We’re going…fishing.”
Even though Saturday morning was like a weekday morning, in that we had to get up early and eat a quick breakfast, he was excited.
We made it to Clearwater Beach before the tournament officially got started. While I talked to some people about it, Kyle and his dad walked ahead so they could find a place to get set up.
The Make a Difference Fishing Tournament has been attended by families of children with disabilities for 22 years. Attendance has been so consistent that organizers had to start an additional tournament for the older participants, who no longer could participate because of their age.
The original tournament is open to kids, of all disabilities, from 8 to 17 years old. The other one is open to adults with disabilities who are 18 and over.
Each year, the tournaments are held at Pier 60 on Clearwater Beach. However the organization has recently expanded to include tournaments in Largo, Dania Beach and even as far as Georgia.
What we did
“My boys” had gotten everything ready, including getting a paper cupful of some freshly-prepped bait, while I continued to run into people we’d met from other events and organizations Kyle attends. Everyone talked about how wonderful this event is.
After I finally got to their places on the Pier, I saw Kyle with an older gentleman, who was holding his fishing pole for him. The volunteer told me they’d already caught two fish! While I was a little disappointed I’d missed seeing him catch his first fish, I also understood that he couldn’t really wait on me. So I talked to Kyle some, then took him on a break, to go to the bathroom, walk around and do any of the activities they had scheduled for the kids.
There was a touch tank from the FWC, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission (the volunteer told me it tours, and she takes it to schools, libraries, and such), and art with volunteers from Make a Difference. Kyle loved the touch tank! He has a fascination with fish and sea life, and he loved touching the hermit crabs and horseshoe crabs.
After getting back to where his dad was, Kyle stayed with him, and the volunteer who was helping him bait his hook. After complaining that the fish would just kept eating the bait off the hook, “The Dad” caught a fish! So that was Kyle’s third, and final, fish.
I should talk about the volunteers. They were very helpful, and cordial. There were so many, kids and adults alike, that were either cutting bait, helping the families cast their lines, or walking up and down the Pier with carts loaded to the brim with food. There were kids with a real sense of humor, hawking their wares like carnival barkers.
Oh, the food! There were things like breakfast items early in the day, like packaged doughnuts, cereal bars and fruit; coolers full of cold drinks; and on the bottom of the carts, coolers full of freshly cooked hot dogs and hamburgers. Nobody went hungry on Saturday!
Apparently, it’s like this every year.
How he did
• Kyle did really great! He never talked about toys we left at home. We did bring just a couple of toys from home, but not much. In fact, in retrospect we probably could have left them at home, and he may have been okay with that. Except they did help, after a while, especially after he got tired and we got the camp chairs from the car.
The things we brought that helped him
• Two of his current favorite toys. That was it. But then again, we were there half the day.
• Definitely bring if your child has autism (this list is pretty much the same as before):
o Familiar toys, and/or familiar movies and DVD player for downtime (there was no wireless connection from any local restaurant at that range).
• Let him do:
o Walk around, especially if they have never gone fishing before. And he hadn’t.
Features (of the Elks Youth Camp) that helped him, or that I noticed would help other families of children with a variety of disabilities:
• They put two Port-O-Lets near the entrance of the fishing portion of the Pier, one of which was handicap-accessible. And they propped open the accessible door to the turnstile for the duration of the tournament. So the whole Pier was (and is) handicap-accessible.
Where it is /address:
Pier 60, Clearwater Beach, FL
• Make a Difference Fishing:
o P.O. Box 16535
o Clearwater, FL 33756
• Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
• Website: http://www.makeadifferencefishing.org