Every single child who has autism is special and unique. There is a spectrum, like a rainbow, and you will find children with autism spread all over the place within this spectrum. Their skill sets are different, the degree of their autism may be mild, moderate or severe; they are all different and unique. And, of course, each family is also unique, in what they want for their child and what their level of comfort may be.
A family who would choose a Galapagos adventure in the first place, embraces an opportunity to travel to a place where kids and adults alike will have a great time. They are starving to travel as a family.
ONE OF THE BIGGEST FEARS OF PARENTS WITH CHILDREN WHO HAVE AUTISM
One of the biggest fears most parents with children with ASD have is that “my child is going to misbehave, everybody is going to look at us, they are not going to understand it.” Often times, people who don’t understand kids with special needs may feel a little nervous around them as well.
I love the idea of having a specific adventure where families with children with special needs can go together. One of the big fears of parents who have children with special needs is acceptance from other parents… other “judging eyes”. So if it’s a special cruise, dedicated only to families who have kids with special needs, it’s like “Ahhhhh”, a great relief for parents. “Oh my God I’m going to be around my peeps, who get it? Wow! And I can learn from them? And we can talk and share experiences and see how they deal with their children?” What a gift! Parents love to have support from other parents.
Fernando – Quasar:
Quasar has dedicated this departure only for families who have children with special needs, acknowledging and understanding that behavioral issues may arise during the cruise. Parents don’t have to worry about not having a place onboard where their child can decompress if they are having a bad moment. We have designated certain areas on the yacht as places where parents and children can calmly decompress when they need to be alone and take a moment for themselves.
The main goal with this departure is to make sure we provide a safe and comfortable environment for parents and children, so they can enjoy a unique family vacation together. By focusing the departure exclusively on children with autism, we make sure that all those onboard will share this experience with other parents who can relate to everything they go through. If we can eliminate the fear of being embarrassed or making other guests uncomfortable because of behavior issues, even if it’s only for a week, we’ll be doing a lot to give parents and children a much needed and deserved opportunity to travel to one of the most unique places on earth.
WILDLIFE AS A FORM OF THERAPY FOR CHILDREN WITH AUTISM
Having seen the effects that animals have on children with autism, like equine therapy for example, I think it is so incredibly powerful to enter into any situation (and the Galapagos is definitely this sort of situation), where the child can feel that the energy is different. Kids with autism are very sensitive. Their systems are heightened. Their sense of smell, sight , sound, and touch is heightened, so they tend to absorb that energy from their surroundings. If someone they are with is anxious, they are going to feel that and it’s going to translate into anxiety in their bodies. Whereas if they are in an open space and there is this harmony between the animals and the people, they are going to feel that calming energy. Kids with autism are really good at discerning who is a friend and who is not. What kind of vibe is this animal putting out? Are they accepting me as a friend or is there some kind of judgement or fear?
Fernando – Quasar:
I can tell you that the vibe and energy that animals in Galapagos put out for people to perceive is amazing. Nowhere else in the world can children (and adults alike) safely get so close to wildlife as in the Galapagos. Animals here never learned to fear humans, so they accept you in their habitat. You may have to walk outside of the trails to avoid birds nesting on the path. You may have to lend your towel to a sea lion who decided to nap on top of it while you were in the water. Incredible encounters with wildlife are an everyday occurrence in Galapagos and the energy around these encounters is always amazing. It is certainly a highlight of any Galapagos trip.
A CRUISE AROUND THE GALAPAGOS AS THE PERFECT WAY TO CONNECT
When you’re ready to go on vacation and have an experience or have an adventure, you’re open. People are generally happy, excited and relaxed when they are on vacation. Initially you may be shy, but you want to connect; our basic desire is to connect with people. Kids with autism are no different. Whether it’s connecting with other adults on the cruise, other kids or the animals, I don’t know what it will be for each individual child, just as I can’t tell you what it will be like for each individual adult. Everyone’s experience is going to be a little different, but in general, I’ve found that kids with special needs are really open to finding those connections especially when given the opportunity.
Fernando – Quasar:
Quasar’s aim with this specific departure is to provide a great setting where parents can feel comfortable opening up to other parents, where kids can connect with other children who have special needs as well as typically developing siblings, and where everyone can be on the same page and feeling the same energy. A place where everyone is ready to take things as they come, one day at a time, and let the islands and the daily experiences do their magic, especially with the children.
THE ACTIVITIES ON LAND AND AT SEA AS A FORM OF DAILY THERAPY
You had talked about snorkeling and swimming in Galapagos as one of the favorite activities for children to enjoy, so I want to put the “parent hat” on for a moment. I can hear them saying “it’s impossible for me to get my child to put anything on his head or his face”… and I can see how getting goggles or a mask and snorkel on a child can be challenging. It might be worth looking at how we can prepare ahead of time to desensitize the children to make sure that kids have the richest and fullest experiences possible.
Fernando – Quasar:
You are absolutely right. And this isn’t necessarily just an issue with children or with someone who has special needs. It’s very common for kids not to like having things on their heads or around their faces. And here is where we’ve found that parents who prepare for these adventures ahead of time by having their kids try out googles or snorkeling gear in a pool or a nearby beach, or even their bathtub, experience the best results. If you prepare your children for the amazing activities that will await in the Galapagos, they will enjoy the richest and fullest possible experiences in Galapagos. We also provide kids with special flotation devices designed specifically for kids and for snorkeling, so that they can easily float above water and don’t need to expend much energy to keep themselves above water.
But, should kids or parents not feel comfortable going snorkeling, we can always arrange for alternate activities onboard, or on shore as well.
Our guides also take the time to deal with children or adults who are afraid of snorkeling to make them comfortable with the activity, often turning the activity that they once feared into the most enjoyable activity by the end of the cruise.
TAKE THE VACATION, YOU NEED IT!
Parents who have kids with special needs are often starving for a break. They need it more than many other families sometimes. They need to go somewhere where they can relax, have fun and on a cruise like this one, it will really help if they are surrounded by other parents who understand them because they too have a child with special needs. I tell parents who I help all the time: “TAKE the vacation, you NEED the vacation! You can’t pour from an empty cup”. Letting go of the therapies, the routine, the ABA or whatever you do with your child on a daily basis… when you let it go, that’s when I always see the most progress take place. I hear it so often when parents get back from a vacation “Oh my God! My child started… talking more… being more social… opening up… getting dressed by himself, etc etc”. It’s absolutely phenomenal. Their child’s world will open up once they do! So it’s super important that as parents they set themselves and their children up for success during a vacation. So having a hotel, a cruise line or a travel company that understands this, is SUPER important.
Fernando – Quasar:
Kids have a lot of energy and it’s often difficult to keep kids entertained regardless of where you travel to. But the way our cruises are planned out greatly helps in this respect. Because wildlife is active very early in the Galapagos, we also get up very early to enjoy the amazing wildlife encounters in the Islands. There are plenty of activities scheduled each day, many of these under the warm equatorial sun. After a day snorkeling, walking, kayaking and on the zodiac rides, children are exhausted at the end of the day. They go to bed early and they have a great night’s sleep as they recharge their batteries for the next day’s adventure.
We’ve also reduced our guide to guest ratio in these departures from 1 to 10 to 1 to 6, thereby allowing our guides to focus better on each family and each child individually, not only addressing their concerns or questions on a more personal manner, but also taking on the daily activities at a pace that suits every single family and every single child.
NIGHTLY PARENT SUPPORT AND DISCUSSION GROUPS
The plan is to have parent support and discussion groups during 3 nights of the cruise that will be facilitated by me. If parents can know that their child is safe and being cared for by another family member (or it could even be that the child is safely asleep in their cabin), these support groups can be great for parents to share ideas and resources, and address common concerns and learn from the experiences of other parents in the group.
Fernando – Quasar:
The idea on this cruise is to make the days as easy and comfortable as possible for every participant. Not only will these support and discussion groups help parents every day, but we’ll also be sending all participants a Sensory Processing Checklist before your departure to give you an opportunity to share information about your child with our staff to help us better serve you.
These support and discussion groups would work best after dinner. They could be between 1 to 1.5 hours long and they will take place 3 times durng the cruise.Knowing your children will be safe and attended to while on these support groups will be very important.
- They could be watched over or taken care of by spouse / partner
- A Trained day care provider could also watch them and keep them entertained
- Baby monitors that do not require wifi can be used onboard
- A Quasar staff member will come and get you out of parent group if your children need you.
OTHER CONSIDERATIONS AND QUESTIONS
Is there an age restriction to participate?
Quasar normally recommends the Galapagos for children over the age of 7. The main reason being that children this age are generally comfortable swimming by themselves and can handle soft walks of 1 to up to 2 hours without any assistance. All children over this age are welcome on our adventures and will enjoy the islands to their fullest.
Here are the things we’ve put in place to make you feel secure that your child will be safe during your adventure and to also help you feel peaceful, relaxed, and never anxiousA Special Needs Expert Onboard
We’ve hired a Special Needs Expert to travel with. You on this unique cruise, designed with you in mind.Previously Trained Guides, Crew and Staff
Provided in-service training to our staff so they are up to speed on supporting the Special Needs population.Special Equipment & “Quiet Zones”
Special equipment / supplies available to them in the event their child needs it. Examples: “quiet zone” areas equipped with weighted blankets, weighted wraps, bean bag animals, “fidget” spinners, tangles, and other objects stored in baskets in the Quiet Zone areas where kids can easily access them.Safety While on Excursions and With Wildlife
Quasar guides and crew will accompany the parents and children at all times while on the activities, always making sure everyone is safe, that the rules of the park are followed (including keeping proper distance from the animals) and that nobody gets into any situation that could be dangerous for the guest.Special Dietary Requirements & Picky Eaters
Quasar will accommodate to the special dietary requirements of all parents and children onboard. This includes kosher food, lacto/ovo intolerant, vegetarian, vegan, etc. It also includes very picky eaters. As long as Quasar is informed ahead of time of any special requirements or the kinds of food you and your child prefer, our chefs will be sure to cater to the needs and requirements of every person onboard.Coronavirus and The Global Pandemic
The global pandemic: By September 2022, it is highly likely that the Galapagos and Ecuador will have reached herd immunity. The entire population in the islands will have been vaccinated by then, including all guides, crew and staff on Quasar’s yachts. Safety and health of our guests is the #1 Priority, and we will continue to monitor the global pandemic in preparation for this special cruise.