Photo courtesy Cabrillo Marine Aquarium


I’m so excited to announce that Autism Awareness Day at Cabrillo Marine Aquarium on Monday, April 2nd, is shaping up to be a wonderful event for special needs families. While my relationship with the aquarium started off on the wrong foot, I’ve since been cultivating a wonderful partnership with Ed Mastro, the Director of Cabrillo, and his team. This man genuinely wants to make this aquarium accessible for all and is so invested in learning more about autism and how he and his staff can make everyone feel welcomed and accommodated. It’s so rare to have such a genuine response from anyone, but Ed and Cabrillo are the real deal and I can’t wait to bring Andrew back for a “redo.”

I’ll also be conducting a staff training a few days prior to the autism event, along with two other professionals working with the autism population, and I think everyone will benefit from what is shaping up to be an informative and enlightening introduction to individuals on the spectrum and the real challenges they and their loved ones face every day. My hope is not for everyone to become experts in autism, but rather, to empower staff, and inspire them to support guests with developmental disabilities in such a way that makes Cabrillo a favorite place to visit for our families.

The event on April 2nd will be closed to the general public, and entrance is free, though Cabrillo is requiring guests to register through Eventbrite.

Highlights of the day include:

Exploring different habitats in Southern California
Touching local tide pool animals
Hearing the sounds of whales
Seeing baby jellyfish
Hatching grunion eggs
Racing plankton
Feeding abalone
Watching movies
Dressing-up as ocean animals

Additionally, arts and crafts and quiet areas will be set up in the library. There will also be an area outside where individuals who need a break can go and relax. Attendees are encouraged to bring their own food if they’d like, and eating areas will be available in the courtyard. The aquarium also features a family restroom.

Our family is planning to be there that day, and I would love to meet you if you plan on attending. I have the best readers, who always go the extra mile for the community, and this event and opportunity for education would not be possible without your active contributions in advocating for our kids.

I have a feeling Cabrillo is going to be a family favorite of ours, and I’m so grateful that amazing opportunities have come from something I know the aquarium will never let happen to someone like Andrew again.

{ 0 comments }

If you’re reading this blog post, chances are you’ve read this one, got super fired up, and now you’re here for an update.

First of all, I want to thank everyone who supported Andrew and our family. Many of you took the time to make phone calls to the aquarium, send messages via social media, leave reviews, and connect with us personally, and your efforts paid off.

After playing phone tag throughout the day, Ed Mastro, the Director of Cabrillo Marine Aquarium in San Pedro was finally able to connect with me this evening. We spent an hour on the phone and the conversation began with a heartfelt, genuine apology from him on behalf of the entire establishment. Ed made it very clear that while the aquarium has always worked hard to be an inclusive place for everyone, this incident highlighted the fact that more needs to be done. He admitted he has very little knowledge about autism and realizes staff training in this area is imperative. He has graciously asked for my help and I have enthusiastically agreed to assist in their commitment to learning more about our kids and how they can make families like ours feel welcome, safe, and accommodated.

Ed also made sure to let me know they will be paying to fix Andrew’s iPad. He actually offered to buy a new one, but that’s not necessary as the screen is cracked and can be fixed. We have an amazing place we use so we’ll be sending the bill to Ed and he’ll make sure to get that all sorted out.

The aquarium will also be inviting Andrew’s school to enjoy the facility and get a more personalized tour of the exhibits. Apparently they even have beach-friendly wheelchairs on hand that can go in the water, so students with physical limitations can experience the ocean during their visit. I have a feeling Andrew will want to try one of those out next time. Actually, I’m pretty sure he’ll request to be parked in the same exact spot he was in the other day so he can flap and squeal as the water rushes into the tank. Over, and over, and over again.

Finally, Ed has asked for my assistance in planning a very special autism event at Cabrillo. The details will be announced in the coming weeks, and I’ll be sharing those here and via Facebook and Instagram. Suffice it to say, I believe this event will go a long way in turning this incident with Andrew into an opportunity for the aquarium and our community to cultivate a long-lasting and meaningful relationship that benefits everyone.

Advocacy is hard. It’s often very messy, and almost always comes on the heels of a painful, humiliating experience. Those of us who advocate for our kids know very well the heartache that comes with our loved ones being discriminated against and mistreated. Rarely is an issue responded to quickly, and with a genuine desire to rectify the situation, but Cabrillo has managed to surpass my expectations and I truly believe they are more than sorry. They are committed to getting to know our kids and making sure my son and your sons and daughters feel comfortable and happy and welcome at their aquarium. Just the way they are.

As a result, I’d like to kindly request that if you left a negative review or comment on Cabrillo’s Facebook page or Yelp, you take a few seconds to remove it. I think it’s just as important to respond to their efforts to make things right as it was when things went south. I promise to call on you if I ever need help in the future. You guys mean business!

I’m so pleasantly surprised at the way things have turned out. I was so upset yesterday and most of today, but tonight my faith in humanity has been restored, and that’s thanks to all of you who got involved, and to the folks at Cabrillo who were determined to make things right.

I’m glad I waited to speak with Ed before returning the media inquiries I received. Now instead of doing a pissed off interview, I’ll likely be doing a story with a local news station on the power of community and second chances. With all the bad news in the world, a story with a happy ending is something I can get behind.

Stay tuned for the details of Cabrillo’s special autism event; I can’t wait to share them with you.

And if you ever need someone to speak up for your kid, you know where to find me.

We’re in this together. You guys reminded me of that today.

{ 10 comments }

My Son with Special Needs Was Kicked Out of an Aquarium Today

UPDATE: There is a wonderful update to this story, so once you’re done reading this and you’re all fired up, head over here to hear about the aquarium’s response. My son was kicked out of an aquarium today. My non-verbal son with special needs – who was with his class and support staff on a [...]

Read the full article →

Julia from Sesame Street is Nothing Like My Son with Autism (and that’s okay)

There’s been a lot of chatter on social media about Julia, the new character on Sesame Street who made her television debut this week, much to the dismay of some families who aren’t feeling like celebrating her appearance on the popular children’s show. Now, Muppets aren’t typically a source of controversy, but Julia happens to [...]

Read the full article →

Autism, Asics, and Sibling Love Featured in Ad Contest Entry

Back in August of this year, a talented director friend of mine, Maciek Sokalski, approached me about an opportunity for my boys to appear in a commercial he was entering into an Asics/Footlocker ad contest. Though ultimately the piece didn’t get chosen as one of the five finalists (WHAT?!!!), it deserves to be seen. Maciek did a [...]

Read the full article →

Autism Awareness Month: 8 More Years Until Graduation

We have 8 years before it happens to him. If time has taught me anything, it’s that she waits for no one, sneaking up behind you while you plan and ponder and erroneously assume she will be generous and accommodating. 22 is the magic number. The ledge is always there. In the beginning it looks [...]

Read the full article →

Why I’m Letting My Son’s School Records Be Shared with California Concerned Parent Association

There’s panic swirling among many parents in California, after Judge Kimberly J. Mueller of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California ruled in favor of California Concerned Parent Association and Morgan Hill Concerned Parent Association, granting the two non-profit parent-run groups access to nearly 10 million California student records. California Concerned Parent Association (CPA) [...]

Read the full article →

Autism and Wandering: Keep Our Kids Safe

In 2004 our son Andrew was diagnosed with severe autism (by today’s DSM-5 diagnostic standards, a level 3 in severity). Since then, the amount of sleep we have lost worrying about our son’s safety cannot be quantified. There is no chart or graph or equation in existence that can statistically depict the fear we feel [...]

Read the full article →

Breaking News! People With Autism Are Among You!

I have a little secret to share with you. Come here. A little closer. Okay, you ready? There are people with autism among you. In fact, you may be standing next to a person with autism RIGHT NOW. I’ve included a visual aide to assist you in the identification of someone with autism. Pay close attention so [...]

Read the full article →

She Was Me.

He was supposed to play in his first Challenger baseball game of the new season this morning, but instead we found ourselves at our local Children’s Hospital emergency room, making sure Andrew’s foot wasn’t broken. (Never a dull moment around here, that’s for sure). It was there that I first spotted them; a father and [...]

Read the full article →