"Take a chance because once you get to that port and see those orange t-shirts, you'll know it's going to be okay. You're making friends at first, but then you have family. That's all there is to it. Somebody on that cruise is going to connect with you. They're going to get you. They've been there, they've done that, and it's all going to be okay. Everything's going to work out. You're going to see an improvement in your child. You're going to have a new addiction."
Kim Ansley and her family are veteran Autism on the Seas cruisers. Since 2015, they've sailed with us three times and they are getting ready to leave on their fourth cruise in just a few weeks. Not only that, they've also booked a fifth cruise this December as a 10th birthday surprise for their son, Jakob.
We chatted with Kim about her family's experience with Autism on the Seas and how Kaleb, her older son with special needs, found the adventure.
Listen to our interview with Kim Ansley
Autism on the Seas: Today we're talking to a really good friend of ours. Her name is Kim Ansley and she's from Brazoria County, Texas. Tell us a little bit about your family. I know you have two sons. Kaleb is 14 and Jakob is going to be 10 this year, right?
Kim Ansley: Kaleb is a typical 14-year-old boy, attitude included, except he's on the autism spectrum and doesn't speak, but he uses his iPad to communicate. His obsessions are swimming and ice cream. My son, Jakob, is a neurotypical kid and he likes to say that his older brother's job is to irritate him, but they love each other very much.
AotS: How did you first encounter Autism in the Season? What made you take your first cruise back in 2015?
I actually received a grant from an organization called Diamond Wishes and once I got the grant, we set sail in about two months. It was the scariest two months of my life. The day of the cruise I cried from my house to Galveston, which is 45 minutes away, because nobody would understand that I would be lost in my room. I was afraid Kaleb wouldn't want to participate and I would starve to death. But I learned as soon as we pulled in and saw all those orange balloons that it was all going to be OK
AotS: Was there anything really surprising that Kaleb did or participated in?
Kaleb connected with the ice cream machine (laughing). He loved it. During pool time, I'd see him with the staff and he'd make them follow the leader. I noticed he had their hands up turning around in circles with their eyes closed, and then he went off to the ice cream machine. Luckily, the staff knew and they were already following him. But he amazed me.On our first cruise, one of the staff members was a speech therapist. Knowing that Kaleb was non-verbal, she gave us some invaluable advice that I preach to others in my shoes to this day. She said when you're working with Kaleb's speech, you need to repeat something to him three times: First, whisper in his ear; second, say it where he can see it, and third, cup his hand over your mouth, so he can feel it. After we got off that cruise, Kaleb started verbalizing more sounds - It worked! That's one of many unexpected gifts we received from our Autism on the Seas vacation.
AotS: Did you opt for the one on one staff assistance?
For our first two cruises, we didn't, but we decided to try it on our most recent cruise and it was amazing! It was like having a sister with me the whole time. We really connected; we talked and we got along. It was the extra-extra support that I needed because she was there for me and my husband, but also there for my kids and basically Kaleb to make sure he got everything he needed and wanted.
AotS: You spent some time walking around Nassau with Kaleb and another family. Did he have any meltdowns?
Kim Ansley: He was good, which surprised us. He was willing to branch out. It's just, I don't know. The staff has a way to get him to, whether it be touch, a different food or a different feeling that he normally doesn't touch, but the staff just has a way to encourage him to do more.
AotS: Anything else you'd like to add for folks who may not have sailed with us yet?>
Kim Ansley: There's plenty I would like to tell them. Take a chance because once you get to that port and see those orange t-shirts, you'll know it's going to be okay. You're making friends at first, but then you have family. That's all there is to it. Somebody on that cruise is going to connect with you. They're going to get you. They've been there, they've done that, and it's all going to be okay. Everything's going to work out. You're going to see an improvement in your child. You're going to have a new addiction.