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Meet Rupa Nadkar -- Autism on the Seas Professional Volunteer

Rupa Nadkar, Behavior Analyst and AOTS Professional Volunteer

Our guests consistently tell us that our professional volunteers are amazing, and we wholeheartedly agree! They are our secret sauce. Talented, educated, committed, caring, bright, eager, compassionate, patient...the list of adjectives that describe these young professionals goes on and on. In this post, we'd like to introduce you to Rupa Nadkar. She's been part of "Team Orange" for just over a year now and we think she's terrific, and so do the families she has touched on their special vacations.

How are your educational and career goals supported by what you do for Autism on the Seas and vice versa?

I am a Behavior Analyst at Devereux PA CIDDS working with clients ages 6-21 with primary diagnoses of Autism. As I plan to expand my education by pursuing my Masters in Education, AOTS has supported my experience in the field. AOTS also supports my career by providing knowledge on a different aspect of families' lives. Many times, as educational professionals, we only see how having a child with Autism effects a family educationally. Working with AOTS has brought to life families' lives outside of just schooling.

Describe your experience as an AotS Staff Volunteer?

My experience as an AOTS staff volunteer has been life-changing. I have been able to combine my greatest passions in life: travel and working with children. AOTS brings spontaneity, love, and happiness into my life. I have met amazing families and staff members across the country that I will stay friends with for a lifetime.

Why do you do this?

I joined the program because I genuinely enjoy each experience that I've had with AOTS. It is fulfilling and enjoyable at the same time. Each experience is different and I feel as though I grow as a person with each new family cruise encounter.

Can you share some examples of connections you've made with families aboard AOTS cruises that have made a lasting impression?

When I am assigned to a family that options for 1:1 dedicated staff support, the connection really goes deep. I am able to spend the entire cruise with their special needs child and the whole family, which makes me feel like I'm on a real family vacation and part of the guests' personal experiences. Having that intimate access to a loving family dynamic is moving. I still stay in touch with those families via social media and texting.

What are some of the most interesting, unexpected or amazing results/experiences that you have witnessed among AOTS guest families and special needs children?

On a recent cruise, one of the special needs guests used a wheelchair due to challenges with gait. We were able to support and encourage the individual to do things that the family never thought possible. This included activities, such as roller skating and ascending the rock wall. To see children with special needs whose expectations related to participating in onboard activities are low, then rise to the challenge and enjoy a new world of experiences and possibilities is particularly heartwarming.

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What's it like to take your first family vacation in 10 years? AWESOME!

Meyers Family Vacation with Autism on the Seas

When typical families plan a vacation, their dreams transport them to picturesque destinations filled with excitement and new cultures, islands of adventure, serene tropical resorts, and cruises that offer something for everyone. In contrast, families with a child on the autism spectrum or other cognitive impairment, often don't dare to entertain their vacation dreams because they cannot overcome their fear of stress, meltdowns, embarrassment, and a host of other concerns. That's how Tiffany Meyers felt. Tiffany has a typical 17-year old son, Noah and a 10-year-old son, Aidan, who has autism and a number of stated phobias. Nevertheless, she was determined to take her family on their first vacation since Aidan was born. She found Autism on the Seas and booked the trip as a Christmas present for her sons. They sailed with us on a seven-night Royal Caribbean cruise to Nassau/Bahamas. Here's her story. 

Autism on the Seas: Tell us a little bit about your cruise. Where did you go?

Tiffany Meyers: We traveled from New Jersey and we went to Port Canaveral, Florida, first. From there we went to CocoCay, which is Royal Caribbean's private island and then we cruised over to Nassau. 

AotS: You were feeling very anxious up until the day of embarkation. How did the initial
onboarding process go?

TM: So, when I found out in December that we were going to be able to take this trip, I was so excited. I thought the wait was going to be forever. Fast forward to June and the packing starts. I'm thinking this is wonderful, we're going on vacation. It wasn't until I got out of my friend's car, who brought us to the port, and I handed my luggage over to one of the gentlemen there, I looked up and I saw the ship... I can't even explain the emotions. It was this overwhelming fear. I looked up at the ship thinking, what did I do? I've gotten my family into this situation. What kind of mom am I? I cannot believe I'm doing this to them. I'm thinking, once we're on that ship, we can't get off. I was terrified, and I'm really trying to just contain my emotions and put on a happy face, but it was very, very, very hard. Once we proceeded to the front of the building, the first thing we saw were these bright orange balloons and a young lady standing there with her orange shirt. I knew who she was, and she knew who we were, and she came right over. And no kidding, within five minutes of meeting her, I was crying. 

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