When we arrived at Rockaway Beach in Queens last Saturday, Angel immediately dove into the sand. This was his first beach experience and we had all been looking forward to it. I think he loved the way the sand felt against his skin. (I am visualizing a sandbox and a huge backyard in our future.)
We brought so much food and gear that you would think we were going away to camp. Our little group also included Angel’s dad, his godmother, and his god sister.
Armed with his SOSecure swim diaper, Angel spent most of his time playing with his beach toys in the sand. He also had fun playing with his beach ball.
Then, a little boy around seven-years old came over with a football to play catch with Angel. The first time the boy tossed the ball to Angel he missed. Yet, Angel picked it right up and threw it back. I was so proud of my son for exhibiting great motor skills and social skills.
The second time the boy tossed the ball, Angel missed again. Then, Angel picked the ball up and put it to his mouth. The boy tried to get Angel’s attention but he was oblivious to the idea that it was his turn to toss the ball back. It was as if Angel had reverted into his own world. This was when the boy got frustrated.
“Oh My God!” the boy hissed. His face filled with frustration. “What is wrong with you?” he asked. His exasperation was obvious and his words stabbed me like a knife. Angel had no visible reaction. I know his receptive language skills are better than his expressive but I had no way of knowing if he was hurt by what the boy said. I know I was. When this happened, I wanted to scream at the boy and tell him to go away with his damn ball. (Mean? I guess but I was in mama-bear mode.)
I can admit that the boy had no idea why Angel did not quite understand how to play catch. This still did not make the experience any easier to witness. Like most parents, I want my son to be accepted and liked by his peers.
In the end, I did not scream but chose to observe how Angel would handle the situation. As the boy huffed and puffed, Angel’s dad joined them to diffuse the situation by joining in. After a few minutes, Angel abruptly walked away and went to play in the sand. The little boy walked back to his family and that was the end of that.
Later that afternoon, I took Angel for his first dip in the ocean. He loved it at first. As soon as the too-cold waves started crashing against his little feet, a smile erupted on his face and he started to giggle. As the waves got bigger and rougher, I held onto him. However, the force of one wave scared Angel so much that he made a bee line for the shore. I had no idea that someone could run so fast on sand.
This experience has reinforced my resolve to continue to expose my son to social situations where he can interact with others. He will not always have us there to help him when he interacts with peers. We have to do what we can when we can to help him cope. This incident could’ve happened on the playground or the school bus or at a park.
Angel will be back at the beach and he will go to the pool and anywhere else we feel like taking him. I have often heard that the world will not change for our children with autism and that we have to adjust. Well, we are adjusting, so world get ready!
If you are in NYC, and looking for a nice, clean beach, I suggest Rockaway Beach. Of course, you won’t see your feet at the bottom on the ocean (no clear blue water here) but by New York standards it is not too bad.
How was your child’s first beach experience? How do you react when other children get frustrated or tease your child because of their play and social skills? I look forward to hearing from you. Check out my slideshow with some pictures from Angel’s day at the beach.