My son recently turned 18 years old and I really wanted to do something special to celebrate his milestone birthday. Most parents with an 18 year old child are making plans for their young adult to attend college, train for some type of a trade or to get a job. That’s not the case in my situation since my child is challenged with moderate to severe autism. As a parent of a child with autism, you are also challenged. By the time your autistic child reaches the age of 18, you (the parent/caregiver) have also struggled with many challenges. The challenges don’t end at 18, in some cases many of them are just beginning.
My son was diagnosed with autism at the age of four (4). Very early in his development, I decided that autism would not hinder me from providing him with many of the fun experiences that typical children enjoy, such as, eating in restaurants, going on vacations, attending events and celebrations, etc. Children on the autism spectrum are all different, and no two autistic children will have the same behavioral and cognitive issues. My son has struggled with different fears throughout his life, such as a fear of flying on an airplane, riding escalators and elevators, and he can be very sensitive to certain sounds and motion. I am thankful that he has conquered those fears and the sensitivity issues have greatly improved.
As a travel professional, I cruise frequently, and I have avoided taking my son on a cruise because I was concerned and very nervous as to how he would react. I feared once we boarded the cruise ship he would become so agitated that we would have to depart the ship at the first port and fly back home. I was afraid that the motion would be more than he could bear, especially since many children with autism have sensory issues. I also feared that the noise in the common areas would cause him to go into sensory overload. I did not want the cruise experience to stress him out and cause him to be miserable and nervous during the entire trip.
I prepared for the trip in the same way that I would advise my clients:
- Travel with a valid Passport. Make sure each person has a Passport, regardless as to whether it’s required. If there is an emergency and you have to fly out of a foreign airport or if you are hospitalized in a foreign country, a Passport will be required.
- Book a very short cruise. Three (3) days or four (4) days maximum, which I always suggest to my first time cruisers. There are also some two (2) day cruises, they are rare; however, they are great for apprehensive cruisers.
- Book an inexpensive cruise. In case you have to cut your cruise vacation short, you would not have taken a big financial lost.
- Pack motion sickness medication. I have cruised for many years, and I have never experienced motion sickness; however, I always pack motion sickness medication as a precaution.
- Pack all medications (prescription and over-the-counter) in a carry-on. Just in case there is a delay in luggage arrival.
- If medications require refrigeration, alert the crew immediately. Provide the room steward with the time(s) that the medication must be administered.
- Arrive early. Familiarize your child and the rest of the family with the ship prior to departure. If your child needs assistance with toileting, locate all of the unisex (family) bathrooms.
- Keep the curtain closed. If you are occupying a stateroom with a window or a balcony, slowly expose your child to the view, sometimes the endless view of the ocean can be overwhelming for a child.
- Keep Room Service information handy. During the first night of the cruise, my son experienced a mild case of motion sickness causing him to fall asleep prior to dinner. I do not leave my son alone and had it not been for room service, I would have missed dinner.
- Purchase Travel Protection Coverage, aka travel insurance. I cannot stress this enough, this should be an absolute requirement, especially, if you are traveling with someone with special needs. Depending on the type of insurance that you purchase, almost any emergency that arises will be covered. It’s best to protect your vacation investment, and most importantly your loved ones with coverage that will provide you with peace of mind.
I am so happy to say, the cruise vacation was a success! My son had a wonderful cruise experience; he practically smiled during the entire trip. He enjoyed activities on board and we also indulged in a shore excursion. Overall, my son had a great time celebrating his 18th birthday and I had a wonderful time just seeing him so happy, in a totally relaxed environment, and experiencing a new and exciting adventure. So, I have a new cruising partner, and of course, I am including him in another cruise vacation in the near future.