Scuba Diving in Roatan, Honduras with my Autistic Son

photo credit: Memo Pastora / Mayan Divers / Scuba Diving

photo credit: Memo Pastora / Mayan Divers / Roatan, Honduras

Scuba diving was never on my bucket list of things to do in life. I never pined to swim below the water surface and explore reefs, or experience sea creatures of varying sizes. However, it was my son’s obsession and when he turned ten-years-old I reluctantly signed up to learn how to scuba dive with him. My son is now twelve-years-old and we have traveled throughout the Caribbean exploring many underwater worlds. We have scuba dived in St. Thomas, Dominica, Bonaire, and Roatan. Each locale has it’s own amazing underwater topography, but my favorite is the tiny Bay Island of Roatan, located off the coast of mainland Honduras.

We arrived in Roatan unaware of what treasures the week would hold. We had signed up with Family Divers for a week long adventure with Kids Sea Camp. It is a program that has safely certified over 5200 children in scuba diving in the last fifteen years, opening up a world of exploration to those individuals who are inherently the most curious – children. My son did not become scuba certified through their program, however he has participated in two prior camps with them gaining his Adventure Diver Certification, and now is on his way to achieving his Jr. Advanced Open Water Certification which he will complete this summer in Grand Cayman with Kids Sea Camp. Often times the certification is achieved in one week, however it takes my son a bit longer to complete the course.

Kids Sea Camp arranges everything for us, we just book our flights, sit back, and relax. Margo Peyton, the owner of Kids Sea Camp, does a fantastic job ensuring the safety of all of the participants, and since my son is autistic she goes above and beyond lining up the perfect Dive Master to work with him throughout the week. I have to admit I did feel a little bad for his instructor this week when I learned Margo spent 30 minutes quizzing him on his capabilities to handle my son, and only permitted his participation as his Dive Master after being fully satisfied with his understanding of what it would take to dive with my special needs child. Margo herself is a parent, and knows how quickly the attention of a child can wander from a safe environment to a dangerous one.

My son’s Dive Master for the week was a gentleman named Memo, who spoke fluent English helping to ensure there was no language barrier. Memo was very patient with my child and allowed him the opportunity to explore the underwater world at his own pace. I know this because I joined in on their dives so that I could have an opportunity to observe how my son is with the instructors, and how the instructors worked with him.

What I witnessed taught me more than I could have ever learned above water.

Whenever I dive with other adults I hear about the various sightings of turtles, moray eels, sting rays, lobsters, octopuses, tangs, angel fish, and lion fish (an invasive species in the Caribbean). Sometimes there are exchanges about the elusive frog fish or scorpion fish, a spotting of a goliath grouper, or other underwater creatures. I myself am enamored with the larger underwater species, watching a spotted eagle ray glide over the top of the reef was one of my favorite moments of the week long adventure. However when I was diving with my son I was forced to slow down and enjoy the little things under the sea, to stop and smell the waters if you will.

My son’s favorite thing to do when diving is to play in the sandy bottoms, looking for hidden treasures. He would spend almost all of his bottom time digging in the sand, searching for a shell. Sometimes he would  bang on his tank with his metal poker as if he was playing the symbols in a collegiate marching band to grab our attention. His eyes the size of saucers as he pointed at his discovery, two tiny fish no bigger than an inch long. That amongst an ocean of opportunities he spent his time looking for the little forgotten treasures when the obvious larger one’s were on display commanding the majority of divers attention was a perfect parallel to how he mistakenly views himself in the world.

One time I spotted two moray eels in a small patch of coral along the sandy bottom, I thought surely he would be interested in this discovery. I swam over to him, interrupted his digging in the sand, and waved him over to see the eels. In scuba diving hand signals or a small underwater writing tablet are your only means of communicating. He reluctantly abandoned his treasure hunting and swam over, while I animatedly pointed out the eels, “Ta DA!” He looked at me, shrugged, and returned to his patch of sand on the bottom of the ocean.

Surprised, I watched him spend ten minutes digging a hole in the sand with such determination I had to shake my head wondering what in the world he was doing. Here we are diving on the Meso-American Reef, the largest barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere, and my kid is digging a hole. I was a bit annoyed to be honest. That was until I sat back and watched him. Because there was no verbal communication, and I had no way to signal him short of tapping on his shoulder, I took the time to really see my son. After digging his hole he went and picked up sea biscuit that had been uncovered. He brought it over and placed it with the tenderness of parent with a newborn in the hole he had dug. Next he carefully covered the sea biscuit up with the sand, allowing just the top to be exposed. I have to admit I leaned back and smiled. Returning topside to the boat he looked at me and explained, “Mom, the sea biscuits only come out of the sand at night!”

I nodded, realizing that the ocean has something to offer everyone from the biggest creatures to the smallest creatures, and this goes for adults and kids too. Sometimes you need to slow down and pay attention to the things that everyone overlooks in their quest for the greatest, and realize you are witnessing the greatest thing right in front of you.

If you would like more information about certifying your child in scuba diving and experiencing a wonderful family vacation I suggest exploring the Family Divers website. I am not receiving any payment for my recommendation.

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  1. I so loved diving with you and Jacob. He truly is a fantastic kid and humbles me to watch him treasure hunt below the sea. I hope you will share more about the baraccuda teeth and that woman that let the monkey in her bag to find its own treasure. Lol I love reading your blog,and thank you for entrusting your priceless moments under the sea to me.