Last Saturday was Champions Day at Hawaiian Falls. The Irving-based chain of suburban water parks opened two hours early so special-needs children and their families could get wet and wild without fighting through crowds. And the price was nice: no charge for the special-needs kids, $5 a head for everyone else. My autistic son, who’s about to turn 8, and I had a grand time at the Hawaiian Falls in The Colony, so I just want to say “thank you.” But I do want to offer a couple of tips for improving the Champions Day concept, before the event happens again on Aug. 17:
1. Turn off the music. Many children with autism, Down syndrome, etc., have sensory issues. In other words, they don’t like loud music. So, please, do without it for those two hours. Trust me; the kids will thoroughly enjoy themselves without having the latest hits from Ke$ha and Daft Punk pounded into their eardrums.
2. If possible, have more lifeguards on duty than you normally would. This one’s going to need a little more explanation.
I sent my son, Gabe, down a fairly short slide on his own. He scooted along, looking back at me through each twist and turn with an expression that said “aren’t you coming?”. When the lifeguard gave me the signal, I flew down the slide and grabbed Gabe’s hand before he’d gotten out of the extremely shallow pool at the bottom. Because things went just as smoothly the second time around, I felt good about his request to go down a slightly higher slide.
The difference this time was that the lifeguard at the top seemed to be waiting for Gabe to get on dry land before giving me the signal to slide. I had a split-second to decide whether to ignore the teenager and go without permission or trust Gabe to wait for me at the bottom. Considering how well-behaved Gabe had been to this point, and having confidence in my ability to catch him should he scamper away, I decided to wait. But as soon as that kid said “go,” I was flying down that slide as fast as someone in my shape (corpulent) could. Only my shoulder blades and heels were touching the surface as I surely set a record for fastest slide by an overweight, middle-aged man.
That’s why I had no time to react when I came around the final corner and saw Gabe at the very instant I plowed through him. Having gotten to the bottom of the slide and not seen his dad, he decided to go back up the slide in search of me. And the lifeguard at the bottom, who was monitoring the ends of three slides simultaneously, was not quick enough to stop him. I knocked him ass over teakettle and scared the living snot out of him; fortunately, neither of us was hurt. Once we caught our breath, we tackled the slides that allow tandem rides, then got out of there once the normal crowds began to pour in.
Again, I want to thank Hawaiian Falls for hosting this event. But, please, if at all possible, have all hands on deck for those two hours. The actions of kids with special needs can’t be predicted.