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Special vacations for special-needs kids

Harris’ grandson Jacob takes on the rock wall on a cruise for autistic children.
Photo by Jennifer Wainberg
By Bob Harris

Autism on the Seas was founded in 2006, as a niche travel company that organizes and staffs cruise and land resort vacations for families and adult guests with special needs, including autism spectrum disorders, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy and other cognitive and intellectually development disorders.

Many cruise lines offer these programs. A recent cruise on the Norwegian Gem from Manhattan proved to be a wonderful experience for my family. My daughter Jennifer kept in touch with Autism on the Seas staff member Meghan Ansberry prior to the trip. On the day of departure she met us at the ship and quickly moved us through all the entrance formalities. There were Autism of the Seas staff members for each of the two youngsters with autism going on this weeklong cruise to the Caribbean. Meghan and fellow staffer Sarah Wright wore orange shirts to identify themselves and they also had a banner identifying the organization. Meghan usually worked with Jacob, my 8-year-old autistic grandson, but both young women worked together. A parent was required to be present during certain activities such as swimming. All family members received T-shirts.

The young women are both special education teachers who are actually volunteers. During sea days the women spend about six hours with the children at different times during the day. During shore days the children go with their parents. There was swimming, riding a water slide, games and activities such as rock climbing. One room was set aside where the children could meet to play computer games and eat snacks and relax. An area of one of the food courts room was also set aside so everyone could eat breakfast and/or lunch together. The parents and family members could go to a special show or dinner while the staff members played games with the children in the evening after dinner.

Regular staff members on the ship were trained to work with any children who were too restless. A special table was set aside in one of the dining rooms for a formal dinner. The waiters quickly learned which the favorite foods of the children were and they were served as the families walked into the dining room. The adults were also served their favorite drinks which made everyone happy.

For more information about Autism on the Seas contact: Autism on the Seas.com; It was just announced that Autism on the Seas was named a Partner of the Year by Royal Caribbean International.

Another activity for developmentally disabled children is called Surfers Way. It provides surfing experience for all kinds of special needs children in Long Beach, L.I. It is a volunteer group operated by Elliot Zuckerman, who has been doing this for 45 years. Volunteers put the children on surfboards, take them out a ways, then wait for a gentle wave to bring them to the beach. Food and water are donated and T-shirts are for sale. It is done two times each summer to everyone’s delight. Contact is: surfersway@gmail.com

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