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

by Jo on February 24, 2018

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 community outing to a local aquarium – had to leave because he was flapping his arms and making joyful noises while watching water pour into a large tank filled with sea anemones.

Because someone complained.

How miserable do you have to be to complain about an overjoyed kid marveling at something most of us take for granted?

How pitiful do you have to be to see someone with developmental disabilities and not make space for that person’s unique form of communication?

How pathetic do you have to be to ask the staff to do something about that annoying disabled kid?

And to the staff at Cabrillo Marine Aquarium in San Pedro, how spineless do you have to be to accommodate some ignorant, insensitive jackass instead of sticking up for my son, who you were informed had a severe form of autism, and who had every right to be there and enjoy the experience, even if he expressed his enthusiasm in a way others may not understand?

With so much anxiety and divisiveness going on, with so much tragedy and heartbreak at the forefront of every news story, THIS is what offends you?

You’re lucky I wasn’t there.

While my son’s school staff may have attempted to intervene in a calm and respectful manner, I would have exercised far less patience and understanding. Partly because I’m a dick, but mostly because you’re not the first person to assume your existence is more valuable than my son’s. You’re not the first person to assert your dominance in a public place and claim you have more of a right to be there than my child.

And Cabrillo Marine Aquarium, you’re not the first place of business to discriminate against my Andrew, and you won’t be the last, but trust me when I say mine is not the family you want to be messing with. I have a big mouth and I’m not afraid to use it, especially when I’m using it to say the things my son cannot.

I’m grateful Andrew has always been welcome at The Aquarium of the Pacific, where hand flapping and happiness aren’t considered defects and my son isn’t regarded as a public nuisance. And I’m even more grateful his teacher and support staff attempted to advocate for him and made sure to contact me to let me know exactly what happened.

If you’re wondering just how horrendous Andrew was being, his 1:1 behavior interventionist managed to get video of  the visual and auditory injustices everyone had to endure. Trigger Warning: Happy boy in wheelchair flapping his arms vigorously and emitting sounds of joy.

Andrew flapping and happy at the aquarium



Like I said. This isn’t the first time, and it’s certainly not the last. But I’ll be damned if I don’t make people think twice before they try to pull this kind of shit with someone else.



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{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

Jennifer Lundy February 24, 2018 at 5:54 am

We love you Jo and let’s us know what we can do to support Andrew ! He has enriched my life beyond words. Yes it’s discrimination and unreal that society has to be educated ! You and Andrew will make a difference so hopefully this will never happen at this place again. Unfortunately our government this week passed H R 620 and we have our work cut out for us.


Kimberly Munoz February 24, 2018 at 11:58 am

I am so sickened and sad that this happened to Andrew and your family. If you’re ever down in Texas, let me know! I’ll treat to the aquarium here!


Jamie Gulden February 24, 2018 at 12:34 pm

I am absolutely furious about this. What the hell is wrong with them. I hope the get the pR nightmare that they asked for.

Jamie Gulden


Jo February 25, 2018 at 4:04 pm

Hi Jamie: There’s an update to this incident if you’d like to read about it!


Kathleen Decato February 24, 2018 at 12:45 pm

HI! Sorry you went through this. My son would have dont the same thing. He is 13 with serve autism and non verbal. People need to be educated about autism . there is so many things to learn and each kid is different. my son can be the loudest person in the room with flapping arms like he is going to take off. but someone sneezes thats it. I also, had to get into someone face and just yell at them. we were on the beach and Ryan was loud and we were calming him down and some lady said” look at him at his age acting like a baby he must be spoiled”. well there was swearing on my account and then i just told her and the next day he did again but no one said anything . i just wish people understood or take the time to ask me questions. i always say no one messes with my kids.


Britton Minor February 24, 2018 at 1:07 pm

Oh Jo, no! Only a joyless, unhappy, fearful, repressed, insecure person could have interpreted your precious Andrew’s delight as a nuisance. I am baffled, yes, but mostly I am deeply saddened by such discrimination and feeble-mindedness. The irony is that by being blind to the joy-infusion Andrew’s unhindered response could have stoked in them—they missed the chance to thaw their icy heart. There are other things my repressed side wants to say. And…you are my favorite dick.


Marianne Gallagher February 24, 2018 at 2:09 pm

Holy crap, I’d have lost it on them, and publicized their behavior on every news outlet in town. I would have made it so public and ‘in your face’ they could not deny it. I’ve worked with autism for 30 years and have never seen my guys treated this way, and my guys are VERY disruptive.
And to the complainer: Shame on you. But what goes around, comes around. Karma’s a bitch.


Amy February 24, 2018 at 3:32 pm

OMG I am fuming!! His noises were not even that loud!! It’s 2018. Shameful that people are still so intolerant. Hugs to this family.


Mary Cronin February 24, 2018 at 4:41 pm

Holy crap…so not right…I hope you called and complained. I love that your son is so excited watching the fish, and what a horrible thing that that aquarium did to him.


Mickey February 24, 2018 at 5:19 pm

This makes me so angry. This LITERALLY could have been me. I love the aquarium. It is one of my happy places (even if it is not particularly wheelchair friendly). When I went with my Autistic adults group, I spent a good 10 minutes flapping and rocking in front of the sharks (because I LOVE the sharks). I would have been devastated if that got me kicked out.


Rick Lanese February 24, 2018 at 5:52 pm

I don’t even know where to begin. I’m sick of the typical community. Talk about out of control, rude children – and you’re probably referring to the undisciplined typical kids who have no boundaries. The fact that anyone, let alone the staff at that aquarium, would be so cruel to an innocent young man with disabilities is disgusting. The Autism Community needs to not just continue to raise awareness – we have to boycott and shut down the people and organizations that would discriminate against our wonderful children.

And to Cabrillo Marine Aquarium, in the words of Captain John Paul Jones, “I have not yet begun to fight!”.


Jaclyn Hess February 24, 2018 at 6:22 pm

Shame on you for not letting this beautiful child be himself.


Carmen Welch February 24, 2018 at 6:51 pm

UGH!!! That is so NOT RIGHT!! SHAME ON THEM!! I am so sorry! It is so not right! : (


Ann February 24, 2018 at 8:02 pm

It always saddens and amazes me how people are so offended by the expression of joy in it’s unique forms and why society feels it has to cater to the complaints of narrow minded joyless people like that. Thank you!!! I am glad you have a big mouth and I will be passing this on


Shannon Primer February 24, 2018 at 9:10 pm

Jo sue them.


tom hynes February 24, 2018 at 10:52 pm

I am a long time docent there. Can we meet and I give you and your child a tour? I have always encouraged yelling at that tank.


Jo February 25, 2018 at 4:03 pm

Thank you Tom. I spoke with Ed Mastro last night and there is an update to this story: I appreciate your offer! We plan to return =)


Emily February 24, 2018 at 11:07 pm

This is so disappointing and upsetting to read.
It sounds like management needs to be educated and treated with some good ol’fashioned backlash.
Let me know if you want phone calls and or emails to the Cabrillo Aquarium. You have plenty of mama bears on your side.


Dolores M Troup February 25, 2018 at 12:46 am

I cannot believe the ignorance in some people. I have a special needs daughter , and if someone had said that to my daughter I would have went balistic, and so would have my younger daughter. That place where you were at , probably needs to get a back bone. I rather have the special needs children around than kids who are suppose to be normal that don’t know how to act when they are in public places.


Marie Waits February 25, 2018 at 1:08 am

Hi Jo,

You are probably familiar with the law already, but here is the link to the ADA rights that your son has. I would certainly let the museum know that what they did was illegal.

What is a public accommodation?
Public accommodations are any place, building, or outdoor space which a member of the public can enter with or without a fee. It does not include “private clubs” (those for which membership must be voted on by other members) and operations owned or operated by religious entities.
Categories of public accommodations listed in the ADA are:

places of lodging (e.g., hotels, motels)
establishments serving food and drink (e.g., restaurants, bars)
places of exhibition or entertainment (e.g., theaters, stadiums)
places of public gathering (e.g., auditoriums, convention halls)
sale or rental establishments (e.g., bakeries, clothing stores, video stores)
service establishments (e.g., professional offices of doctors, dentists, lawyers, gas stations, funeral parlors)
stations used for public transportation
places of public display or collection (e.g., museums, gardens, galleries)
places of recreation (e.g., parks, zoos)
places of education (e.g., private schools)
social service centers (e.g., homeless shelters, day care centers)
places of exercise or recreation (e.g., gymnasiums, golf courses).
What in general must a public accommodation do or not do?
A public accommodation:
· cannot deny goods or services because a person has a disability or is associated with a person with a disability,
· cannot offer only unequal or separate benefits, AND
· must offer services in the most integrated setting possible.

Special programs for people with disabilities can still be offered, as long as the programs offered to all other people are still available to those with disabilities.

My prayers are with you and your son,


Malin - Sensational Learning with Penguin February 25, 2018 at 1:26 am

I read this earlier and now read it again, and it’s still making my blood boil. It’s just awful! Makes me both sad and angry. Big hugs to Andrew and you, and a big kick somewhere painful to those who ordered him to leave the aquarium. Grrr….


Crystal Couture February 25, 2018 at 1:28 am

Good job mom, I would have done the same thing for my two disabled kids


Mary Ellen Miller RN February 25, 2018 at 1:59 am

Dear Andrew and family,
Thank you for sharing your story so all will know about the insensitivity of the staff and administration at the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium in San Pedro and boycott visiting it.

Andrew you are a bright shining star who brings light to everyone you meet.
You deserve respect and we stand with you and your family.

The Miller Family. Pocono Pines PA.


Jo February 25, 2018 at 4:02 pm

Please read the update to this incident when you get a chance!


Heather Markaj February 25, 2018 at 2:22 am

We stand beside your son. This should not have happened and I understand your feelings. My oldest has Angelman Syndrome. He is nonverbal, flaps his hands and is happy (and sometimes loud) when experiencing things. Some people are wonderful, others not so much. We live in a world that is very cruel to those who truly love unconditionally. We support Andrew.


Ces February 25, 2018 at 7:41 am

Shame on Cabrillo Marine Aquarium won’t be going there!


Jo February 25, 2018 at 4:01 pm
My Inner Chick February 25, 2018 at 1:19 pm

—I work for the Duluth School District & find this absolutely appalling.
I see you are using this incident to EDUCATE others.
Fabulous. And sad that you need to.
Keep telling your story!
From Duluth. xx
PS. Keep flapping, Andrew…Keep feeling the JOY!)))))


chavisory March 15, 2018 at 6:44 pm

And they say autistic people are the inflexible ones. :/ :/ :/

(Glad to hear the aquarium got in touch to make things right.)


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