Cruisin’ with autism

19 Jan

Almost exactly 3 years ago I embarked (literally) on an adventure with one of the families I worked with at the time. The family paid for me to go on vacation with them, so that I could work with their son. He has autism and I was one of his in-home ABA therapists, so the family thought it would be helpful to have me around for their international vacation. They paid for all of my travel expenses, and they also paid me for my time. It was a really unique experience, and I’m glad I did it.

We took an 8 day Disney cruise to various parts of Mexico, and during my time on the ship I worked almost 12 hours a day with their little guy. We had some 1:1 time in the cabin to do our regular ABA tasks, and then most of the day I would facilitate his participation in the various kids club activities, and I would also join the family at all of their meals. We worked on lots of things like:

  • Behaviors- managing his self-stimulation, aggression, and non-compliance
  • Meal time- sitting appropriately, waiting, trying new foods
  • Socialization- following what the group was doing, interacting with other kids, responding to family members
  • Language- requesting, labeling, lengthening sentences, varying his phrases
  • Academics- Counting, reading, and completing worksheets

Another important purpose for me joining the family was to work with the parents. We worked on things like:

  • How to elicit more language (withholding items until he asked for them)
  • How to reinforce appropriate behaviors (token systems, praise, access to the iPad, etc)
  • How to decrease maladaptive behaviors (extinction, follow through, etc)

While it was an exhausting experience, and it didn’t go exactly as I had expected, it was a really neat way to do my job…..on a cruise-ship! A few weeks after the trip, we had a team meeting and the boy’s mom told everyone how my presence helped decrease her anxiety and helped her enjoy her family vacation a little more. Plus she was still beaming about the progress he had made on our trip (learning to swim with me, and eating several bites of new foods for me). That right there was my validation. I got to make a difference for this family on their vacation. Plus, I not only got to travel to Mexico for free…but I got paid to do it!! It was really neat, and I’ll always treasure the experience. I think the idea of being a traveling ABA therapist is so cool and I count myself very lucky to have gone on the trip with them.

CruisePics

So… I’m sharing this story because I recently learned of an organization that does this sort of thing. Autism Adventure Travel matches up families with special needs children with specialists who would be willing to join them on vacation. The specialists (Occupational Therapists, Speech Therapists, ABA therapists,  Psychologists and more) volunteer their time, in exchange for a free vacation. Autism Adventure Travel (AAT) arranges 3-8 days cruises, including group vacations, and charges families a nominal fee to find the right specialist. AAT not only makes arrangements for the specialist, but they also put together on-board activities, book group excursions on behalf of the families, and plan the entire vacation itinerary!  They provide full service travel planning, with the added bonus of finding “degreed, background checked, and […] experienced” therapists who are willing to volunteer their time for the families. In addition, AAT fundraises in order to help the therapists get to the ship ports so that the families are only responsible for paying the actual cruise expenses. And, this organization is awesome for therapists who would like to travel the world at no cost. Sure, they have to work on the cruise (just like I did), but it’s an opportunity to utilize their skills in a unique setting.

Autism Adventure Travel provides a wonderful service to families who might otherwise not be able to vacation with their special needs child. And they provide a rare opportunity for specialists to travel for free. For more information you can check out their website here.

 

***I was not asked or otherwise encouraged to endorse AAT. The views expressed are my own.

Advertisements

One Response to “Cruisin’ with autism”

  1. misssto July 16, 2014 at 7:06 am #

    Wow this sounds amazing! I am a therapist too and have never been offered a job like that before !

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: