Advice from AotS guest Jeff Jannarone: “Don’t overthink it. Just book it, show up, and enjoy!” – AOTS Blog
“The best advice I ever got on whether or not to take a cruise with Autism on the Seas was, book it, show up, and enjoy. Those three things couldn’t have been truer. Just do it, because you have the opportunity to relax, your child’s needs are going to be met, and they’re going to be given the love and attention that they need, which means you can relax as a parent and actually enjoy a vacation.”
“AotS has taught Julia compassion for those that may have some more limitations than she does, as well as those that have the same limitations as she does. So it’s a beautiful relationship where she’s learning more than just going on vacation.”
— Jeff Jannarone
LISTEN to our podcast interview with Jeff Jannarone.
AotS: Tell us a little bit about how you initially got connected with Autism on the Seas?
Jeff Jannarone: Sarah Meyers is one of the AotS volunteers, and Sarah was also my daughter Julia’s behavioral therapist, who started with her at age four. When Julia was five, Ms. Sarah took a cruise with AotS as a volunteer, and I believe that was July. When she came back, she introduced us to the opportunity, and of course, I was extremely hesitant. But knowing that Ms. Sarah was there to help, I was encouraged to do it, and I’m so glad we did because the opportunity was excellent. One other side note, we went to Disney this past winter, and I’ll always go back to cruising because Disney just couldn’t accommodate our needs. No disrespect to Disney, but what we needed, they just couldn’t do.
AotS: Give us an example of that. What was it that you were in need of but couldn’t get?
Jeff Jannarone: We were trying to navigate the park, finding a bathroom that was co-ed, just those little things and not having the staff there to constantly guide you and help you and mentor you. It was very difficult, extremely difficult. And the one day we were successful was the day one of the AotS staff met us at Disney because she happened to live down there. The rest of the trip was just not very productive.
AotS: So tell us a little bit about your daughter. Julia’s eight years old, right?
Jeff Jannarone: She is, she’s eight and she is what they call twice exceptional. She has a very high intelligence level, but she also has some low functioning areas, such as social-emotional, ADHD, and sensory perception. So some of those are extremely challenging, which puts her own brain in conflict with itself. So we’re working through those issues right now with different types of therapy, whether it be occupational, physical, behavioral, sand play therapy, whatever it is.
AotS: You had mentioned something earlier before we started the formal interview that I thought was really impressive. You were sharing your thoughts and fears about your daughter getting bullied because of her special needs. And you said, you never thought about the flip side of that, cruising with Autism on the Seas and Julia being around other kids that may be a little less high functioning compared to her. Talk about that.
Jeff Jannarone: Well, I had an awesome experience with it because as a father of a special needs child, I’m always afraid of bullying and I always expected my daughter to be the victim. Well, she was interacting with a nonverbal young man who was, I’m estimating about 17 years of age and he was playing a little Fisher-Price piano. So she’s interacting with him and they’re playing music back and forth and he made some awkward sounds. Julia started to follow suit, which I translated as her trying to bully the boy. Fortunately, before I reacted, I asked why she was doing it and she told me she was trying to communicate with him in his own language.
So, the lesson to me is I have to also expect more from my daughter, the same as I would expect from a typical child, and not always assume that she’s going to be the victim where she has the opportunity to victimize others, which she hasn’t. And I’m blessed for that. So AotS has taught her compassion for those that may have some more limitations than she does, but also some that have the same limitations that she does. So it’s a beautiful relationship where she’s learning more than just going on vacation.
AotS: So, instead of taking advantage of the respite, you were in observation mode picking up some skills from the staff, right?
Jeff Jannarone: Having the exposure to so many diverse disciplines from the staff gave me so many more opportunities to learn how to deal with different situations. So a physical therapist deals with things differently than a social worker, a behavioralist deals with things differently than a doctor. So having access to professional staff from a variety of therapeutic backgrounds was great, because sometimes it was about stimulating my daughter with some type of physical activity, not a mental activity. I learned so many valuable skills just by being on the cruise and observing.
AotS: You mentioned that Julia had a bit of a meltdown on your second cruise. What happened and how did you get her to settle down?
Jeff Jannarone: What happened was, she had what I thought was a self-esteem question… She didn’t think she had any value. So I asked her, “Are you trustworthy?” Which then brought back a memory from three years ago when she lied to a teacher. She melted down to a degree that I’ve never seen before because she lied and she wasn’t trustworthy. But here’s the good news. I picked up the phone, called the staff and a young lady came to the cabin and worked it right out with her. I couldn’t do it myself. It was something I had not been exposed to and they immediately responded. They immediately helped. And then we actually went to the final activity on the boat, which was the award ceremony. So possibly some of it was her fear of transitioning back to not being on the cruise because of the anxiety of it ending. But sometimes you just never know.
The bottom line is, the staff was there to help. It worked and we got her to participate in the activity and finish the cruise on a positive note.
AotS: Is there anything else that I didn’t ask that I should have?
Jeff Jannarone: Yeah, the best advice I ever gotten concerning whether or not to take a cruise with Autism on the Seas was, book it, show up, and enjoy. Those three things couldn’t have been truer. Just do it, because you have the opportunity to relax, your child’s needs are going to be met, and they’re going to be given the love and attention that they need, which means you can relax as a parent and actually enjoy a vacation.
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