Before Cruising with Autism, Inc., I thought everyone knew at least one person with autism. I really thought that everyone had at least one relative or someone close to them that’s living with autism. Why did I think that? Probably because when my son was diagnosed, the prevalence of autism was 1 out of every 125 for children born the year that he was born, which was almost 20 years ago (CDC). Today, 1 in 68 American children are diagnosed with autism (CDC). I thought, 1 in 68 children, that means everyone should know about autism or at least know one person with autism. I was so wrong!
I started Cruising with Autism, Inc. in 2014, as a result of my love for travel and after taking my son, TJ who is affected by autism on his first cruise. We went on a cruise in November 2013 in celebration of his 18th birthday. This was after years of avoiding a cruise vacation with him because I didn’t know how his behavior as a result of autism would affect him while we were on the ship. It’s not like I could have said, this is not working, turn the ship around and drop us off. No matter the outcome, we would have to stay on the ship until the end of the sailing. Most people with autism have sensory sensitivities and cruise ships are not always sensory-friendly. My son is sociable, but he can display some inappropriate social interactions, such as making loud noises and he can be impulsive, such as running when he is supposed to be walking. I had so many fears because I really didn’t know what to expect. Well, on the 3-night cruise to the Bahamas, he had an absolute blast. He enjoyed the Caribbean music, all of his favorite foods, a tour of the Atlantis, and just relaxing. He had so much freedom since we broke from our normal routine, most households with an autistic family member are constantly following a routine. The cruise was such a success that I decided to start a non-profit so that I can work to make this happen for children, teenagers and young adults with autism because most of our families are burdened emotionally and financially.
In April 2015, I participated as a creator in One Spark, the World’s Largest Crowd funding Festival which is held annually in Jacksonville, Florida. I pitched the social good platform with “A Cruise for 10 Teens Living with Autism.” I had people come up to my booth that wanted to know the definition of autism. I was so shocked that so many people that I met during the festival didn’t know about autism, some may have heard the word autism but did not know the meaning or the characteristics of a person with autism. I spent so much of my time defining autism, which was a pivotal for me because I realized that in order for the nonprofit to be successful, I would have to provide autism awareness.
Most families that have a family member living with autism are very strained in many different areas. Holly Robinson-Peete stated “Autism is Unaffordable,” not only did she state that it was unaffordable but “ridiculously unaffordable and can financially bring a family to its knees…even in good times.” Her son, RJ who is living with autism has two famous parents and they are considered a prominent family by most standards. Holly Robinson-Peete expressed how her family felt financial pressure by providing RJ with his necessary therapies, which insurance companies does not cover. Just imagine how a family of an “average” income is managing or how they are hardly managing. This is what autism is to most families.
We are looking forward to our first cruise which is scheduled to sail out of Jacksonville, Florida on the Carnival Elation on June 23, 2016. We plan to fund at least 10 children, teens, and young adults with autism to be taken with their family. We are planning fundraisers, including our year end Caribbean-style Cruise party which will be an inside cruise experience on December 12, 2015. We are seeking sponsors, vendors, and donations of any amount to fund the cruise vacations. Please feel free to visit our website www.cruisingwithautism.org, follow us on Twitter and Periscope: @autismcruises and Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/cruisingwithautism