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Cruising the Caribbean with Autism in Tow

Sailing on a cruise ship is one of the best antidotes to stress. Luxurious and relaxing, it is an experience that many families would love to enjoy. But for families with autism in their midst, this can be challenging. To others, this could also mean an impossible dream. Unlike others whose main concern is to simply pick out the date, the places to pursue and where to point their camera, families with a member who has autism has other concerns that need to be met to make the trip worthwhile.

After the success of my book, Living Autism Day by Day: Reflections to Give You Hope and Courage, in October, I decided to go on a cruise with my 17-year old son, John, who has autism in December. Having been through a lot in the past months due to the rigorous promotion of my book, John’s therapy and school, facilitating the sale of our home, and other matters put my stress hormones in haywire.

So, I decided to discuss with John if he was amenable to being on a cruise ship. As expected, his excitement is over the moon. Just so you know, most individuals with autism have this penchant for water. It could be because it relaxes them but, overall, most of them love being near bodies of water. Most cases in autism wandering are also somewhat related to this particular fondness.

Luckily, today’s passenger cruise ships are quite accommodating to individuals with special needs. We choose Independence of the Seas though, as John had this current in Haiti and ziplines. For other autism families out there who are also planning on getting into a cruise ship and do not know what to do here are some tried-and-tested tips which may come handy to you and the whole family.

Cruising the Caribbean with Autism in Tow - john zipline

Research

Though not blatantly stated on their flyers, not all cruise liners accommodate individuals with special needs especially children. The key is to find one that has lined up activities catered to your child’s interest. John has this interest with ziplining and fish feeding which was included in the Independence of the Seas. Plus, we are curious as to how Haiti had fared after the great quake, a common interest to us both.

Of course, always check itinerary of the cruise ship. If you may, choose one that requires the least tender use. Accessibility and safety ashore must also be on top of your main agenda prior to booking. See to it that excursions and activities are aligned with your child’s interest.

Early Booking

Booking early, on the other hand, can prove to be of much help. This will give you the best choice of cabin location and amenities. You might want one that’s far away from elevators or stairwells. When booking, it is imperative that you inform the in-charge of your child’s condition so they can note it down. Ships accommodating individuals with special needs often employ equally experienced staff and will subsequently make necessary arrangements for a safer and more enjoyable vacation. This also puts you eligible for priority boarding like in our case.

Cruising the Caribbean with Autism in Tow

Arrive Ahead of Time

As much as possible, consider arriving at the docking point a day earlier to give your child with autism a chance to relax. Traveling can be stressful to them. Some consequences while en route may cause undue anxiety to him or her. A meltdown often happens when there is too much for them to take. This vacation is for both of you to enjoy. Take time to consider that airport dashes and cranky preparations will only put your child at the precipice.

Pack Accordingly

Individuals with autism have certain quirkiness and no matter how simple, it would seem their lives depended on it. John, for instance, cannot leave home without his favorite shirt. It is his lifeline. Your child may also be like that. Even if you are going to a tropical destination, if he cannot do without his parka, bring it along. It will give him the comfort he needs and peace to your ears.

If you also have special equipment needs like wheelchairs or strollers, pediatric oxygen stuff, and so on, you may want to ask these stuffs with the booking agent. Rent them out to free yourself from the inconvenience of hauling them to and fro your home. Some shipping can also arrange specific food, baby formula and diapers, and other supplements delivered to you.

If you are using a travel agent, it is important to emphasize that you will be travelling with someone who has autism or special needs. Phone calls can be easily forgotten as these people talk to hundreds of contacts per day. It would be best to email your specifications and other requirements for him or her to refer to when looking for a cruising ship for you.

Finally a Place Where You Never Have to Say I’m Sorry is Not Just a Slogan!

Gym for all!

The gym hopes to eliminate that stigma. Their slogan is, “Finally a place where you never have to say ‘I’m sorry’.” Green said, “It’s just nice to be in a place where he can be himself. Where he can yell, and he can jump and he can climb.”

The gym has 31 locations in 10 different states. CEO, Dina Kimmel whose own son has autism, started it 5 years ago. She says 1 out of 5 kids are affected by a sensory processing disorder and says the gym is needed for those kids to grow.

The gym has swings, a zipline, a trampoline and monkey bars. Visitors will also find a calming room and a therapy room and classes such as yoga and dance. It’s the only program of its kind like in Western New York. Kimmel said, “Those numbers are high and they are not going anywhere. This is a neurological disorder so it’s not like the other indoor play gyms. It is for fun, but it also serves a bigger purpose.”

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