FatherSon Ventures

Building a Relationship through Adventure


Written By: Scot Butwell - Aug• 22•12

but fly fish x

D is talking to a striped fish in a large rectangular tank as we leave the aquarium. “We will see you again Butterfly fish,” he says to the red, orange and yellow-striped fish.

“I want to go back and see Captain Eggplant,” he says in the parking lot on the way to the car.

“His name is Captain Eggbar.”

“I want to see Captain Eggbar. Can I see him again?”

“Sure, we will come back soon to see him.”

The aquarium is tiny: one room with ten to twelve tanks and an outdoor patio with tour picanother eight to ten tanks where visitors can take a guided tour and pet sea animals. And it’s free. Which makes it a great place to revisit.

But it is the perfect size for D. He ran in circles, literally and figuratively, on a visit to a much larger aquarium, yet formed a personal connection with the sea creatures at this tiny aquarium.

He liked the Butterfly fish and sting rays, but by far his favorite was Captain Eggbar, a computer-animated alligator with a sailor’s cap and booming voice who asks “true” or “false” questions about marine life.

D read each question aloud off a screen and then rushed a few feet away to touch a “true” or “false” icon on a computer monitor to hear Captain Eggbar say “correct” or “incorrect.”

I broke down each question to his cognitive level, and while a few other kids his age or older came by, they just wanted to hit the true-false icons without even reading the questions.

Two moms commented on how impressed they were with D’s reading, and as I celebrated each one of his correct answers, I felt a father’s pride in his decoding and engagement in questions beyond his age level.

sea urchinHe progressed through a series of seven questions three consecutive times, reading each question and listening to the clues I gave him, and after tapping the “true” or “false” icon, waiting a few seconds to hear Captain Eggbar say “correct” or “incorrect.”

During the next few weeks, D continuously asked me to do true-and-false questions with him at home, in the car or at the park. Everywhere we go, he says, “Dad, can you do a true or false question?”

“True or False? Whales have belly buttons.”

(True. Whales are mammals.)

“True or False. Dolphins sleep with one eye open.

(True. This allows dolphins to look for predators while resting half their brain.)

“True or False? There is an ocean animal called a bone-eating snot flower worm.”

(True. It has stringy gills that look like snot hanging from their body.)

“True or False? Some fish communicate by farting.”

(True. Herring fish emit high-pitched farts to communicate.)

The true-false questions are an easy template for conversation, I suspect, and he likes to answer incorrectly to hear me make a loud buzzer sound, laughing at the strange noise.

He may be stimming off the true-false questions, it occurs to me after a couple of weeks, since the true-false questions and the buzzer sound he likes to hear are repetitive in nature.

But it beats hearing silence in the back seat, and my hope is the true-false questions will lead to more frequent and fluid communication between us during our father-son adventures.

D struggles with using language socially: initiating, maintaining, and terminating conversations. Kids will talk to him at the park, and after a short exchange, he often wanders off before they start to play together.

Yet, today D said good-bye to a Butterfly fish and talked to me about wanting to see Captain Eggbar again, and this was more than usual. So I am grateful for a Butterfly fish and an animated alligator for helping to stimulate D’s pragmatic speech.

I feel gratitude for discovering wisdom in such an unlikely place–a tiny aquarium one block from the beach. The wisdom is simple: to join him in whatever excites him and seize these as opportunities for communication.

eelsFootnote: Pragmatic speech is involves reading or responding to subtle emotional and social cues and using language creatively in a variety of social settings. (Engaging Autism, Stanley I. Greenspan, M.D. and Serena Wieder, P.H.D.)

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