Father & His Autistic Son Face Terrible Ordeal Together

Ponce Inlet, FL–“I just kept thinking about her and how I was not going to leave her without a brother and her father in the same day — not on my watch…It was the visual of her that kept me going.”

Kelly, a longtime reader who has an autistic son, sent me this touching father-son story.

From Boy’s Illness Credited for Survival at Sea (CNN, 9/10/08):

Walter Marino shouted to his 12-year-old son, Christopher, as he drifted farther away in the Atlantic Ocean.

“To infinity,” the father yelled.

“And beyond,” Christopher replied.

After a rip current swept the boy and his father out to sea Saturday, darkness fell, and the sound of rescue helicopters and boats grew faint until they were nonexistent.

Despite the danger, Christopher, who has autism, was enjoying himself, his father said. The boy lacks a fear of death because of his autism and finds comfort in the water, Marino told CNN.

Marino finds comfort in his son. Their unique circumstances helped keep them alive for more than 12 hours in the open ocean, Marino said.

“With many kids with autism, the thing that is so dangerous is that they have no concept of fear or fear of death,” Marino said. “In this case, though, it perhaps saved him — that and the fact that water is one of his favorite things.
Whenever he goes missing or tries to run away, we can always find him near water … even at the mall if it is just near a fountain.”

Christopher was laughing as the father and son were pulled farther and farther from Ponce Inlet, Florida. As the pair lunged for buoys — and missed — Christopher couldn’t help but giggle. It was this spirit that helped ground Marino, the father said.

“It was a big entertainment roller coaster for him, that’s what got me through it — because he wasn’t freaking out,” said Marino, 46.

But after four hours at sea without a life vest, and after it became obvious that rescue operations had ceased for the night, jellyfish began to sting the pair. That began to “freak Christopher out,” his father said.

While Christopher is almost nonverbal in his communication, he and his father use catch phases from Disney movies, which the boy loves, to communicate.

After four hours, the currents picked up, and Christopher began to drift from his father’s reach. Because of the darkness, they couldn’t see each other. So Marino shouted out part of a phrase to his son.

“To infinity,” Marino shouted, referencing one of Christopher’s favorite lines from the movie “Toy Story.”

“And beyond,” Christopher shouted back, pumping his fist in the air like movie character Buzz Lightyear.

The call and response went on for a while, with Marino choosing different phrases and Christopher yelling back. But over the course of an hour, Christopher’s voice faded until his father couldn’t hear him anymore.

“That’s when I resigned myself to the fact that he was gone,” Marino told CNN, saying he believed his son had been pulled under the water. At the time, Marino said, he thought about giving up, until he thought of his daughter Angela. She had just registered for ballroom dance classes, and he told himself over and over he would live to see her dance.

“I just kept thinking about her and how I was not going to leave her without a brother and her father in the same day — not on my watch,” he told CNN. “It was the visual of her that kept me going.”

Read how the story turns out here.

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