Autism on the Seas - Advisory Team
Autism on the Seas (AotS) is committed to providing the most comprehensive cruise vacations conforming to the accessibility and accommodation service needs the disability community requires. This commitment is made possible, in part, through the continuous improvement efforts of the Autism on the Seas Advisory Team.
The purpose of this volunteer team is to provide guidance to Autism on the Seas (through feedback and input regarding policies, procedures and services) for maintaining an effective program, to ensure that expectations of its guests are met and exceeded whenever possible.
The Autism on the Seas Advisory Team is made up of representatives from the AotS Staff, experts from the Special Needs Industry, representatives from the Cruise Industry and parents of children with disabilities, as well as Americans with Disability Act legal counsel. This multi-disciplinary approach facilitates the incorporation of diverse viewpoints when considering applicable laws, needs of our guests, latest disability industry developments, and cruise industry guidelines.
The Autism on the Seas Advisory Team works collaboratively to review the needs of existing AotS program constituents and to guide improvement projects such as, but not limited to, the following topics:
Staffing requirements, criteria, selection and performance review
Onboard activities and events
Special needs accommodations
Cruise Line changes in policies and procedures
Autism Friendly Certification, Standard and Training Program
ADA changes and current industry accommodation issues
Cruise Line consultations
Travel laws and trends
The Advisory Team
Michael Sobbell (co-chair), Owner/Founder AotS
Mike is the owner and founder of “Autism on the Seas”. He started this unique travel agency in 2006 and together with his vast cruising experience onboard cruise ships, studies in sociology and psychology, and his efforts in bringing developmental disability accommodation expertise to fruition, he has formed the most dynamic vacationing experience for families and adults with special needs. Within the second year after forming AotS, Mike was elected to the Royal Caribbean Cruise Line Inside Sales Advisory Board, an honor highlighted by the fact that only 20 agency owners of over 5000 across the United States were elected. “Autism on the Seas” has also been used by Royal Caribbean International to train other travel agents on Niche cruising. Mike has been successful in attaining many Special Needs Travel accommodations onboard cruise ships since beginning the agency, and he continues to advocate for the Special Needs Community working with and consulting for the major cruise lines, and resort suppliers. With Mike’s earlier background in Quality Assurance Standards compliance, the strides made by Autism on the Seas within the cruising industry, together with Royal Caribbean’s efforts and forward thinking initiatives he engineered the industry’s first Autism Friendly Standard and Certification Process in 2014.
Dr. Rachel Potter (co-chair), Director of the Graduate Teacher Education Program for Mary Baldwin College
Rachel serves as the Director of the Graduate Teacher Education Program at Mary Baldwin College in Staunton, VA, where she teaches graduate courses in special education, autism spectrum disorders, and applied behavior analysis. Rachel is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA-D) and is also licensed to practice in that field by the Virginia Board of Medicine. Rachel obtained her Doctorate in educational leadership from the University of Virginia, her Masters in special education from The College of William and Mary, and her Bachelor’s degree in government and secondary education, also from The College of William and Mary. Rachel served as a special education teacher, assistant principal, and principal, prior to her current role as a college administrator and professor. Rachel serves on the Board of Directors for Service Dogs of Virginia and serves on the State (VA) Autism Professional Development Consortium. Rachel is a parent of two children, one of whom has autism. She has cruised with Autism on the Seas as a client (with her family) and as a Group Leader for AotS in 2014.
Dr. Hannah Hoch, Adjunct Professor of Psychology at Barnard College / Private Practice
Dr. Hoch is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst specializing in the education and treatment of individuals with autism. She received her doctorate in Psychology from the CUNY Graduate Center Learning Processes and Behavior Analysis Psychology program. Dr. Hoch is currently an adjunct professor in the Psychology Department at Barnard College and has a private practice serving individuals with autism and their families in the NY/NJ area. Her clinical and research interests include reduction of challenging behavior and increasing language and social skills in children with autism. Dr. Hoch serves on the editorial boards of the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, Behavior Analysis in Practice, and Education and Treatment of Children. She has published in the area of functional analysis and treatment of severe behavior problems, as well as increasing language and social skills in individuals with autism.
Kerry Magro, National Motivational Speaker / Autism Advocate / Consultant / Autism Speaks Social Media Marketing
Kerry Magro is a national motivational speaker, autism advocate, consultant and is employed by Autism Speaks in their Social Media Marketing department. In 2011, Kerry won Autism Society’s Outstanding Individual with Autism Award. Kerry’s book “Defining Autism From The Heart” which discusses his early years with autism came out in July 2013 where it became an Amazon best seller for Special Need Parenting. Kerry’s 2nd book “Autism and Falling in Love” was released in Dec 2014. Kerry sets out to help our autism community and is well known for his consulting efforts to help others in need. Kerry holds a Bachelors Degree in Business with a Concentration in Sports Management (Seton Hall University) and a Master Degree in Strategic Communication and Leadership (Seton Hall University). Visit Kerry: http://www.KerryMagro.com
Cruise Line Representation
Since pioneering the industry’s first and only sustained developmental disability cruise assisted services in 2006, we have established relationships with several cruise lines accessibility departments. We consult with them to acquire their feedback and guidance relative to their specific policies and guidelines in aiding our Advisory Team.
AotS Cruise Staff Representatives
Alyssa Soohoo, Special Education Teacher
Alyssa has been volunteering with AotS since 2010. Alyssa has experience working with individuals with special needs in both recreational and academic settings. She has worked as a special education teacher in a second and third grade autism classroom. Alyssa is in the PhD Program for Autism and Intellectual Disabilities at Columbia University. She is a graduate of The College of New Jersey (TCNJ). She holds a Masters of Art in Teaching Special Education, a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Elementary Education, along with a double minor in Communication Disorders and Deaf studies. She previously worked as the research assistant at The Center for Autism at The College of New Jersey, and is the founder of Autism Awareness Week at TCNJ. Alyssa has published research on the effectiveness of using video modeling intervention during vocational tasks with individuals with autism in the National Association for Dual Diagnosis Journal.
Brittania Gejoff, Special Education Teacher
Brittania has been a staff member with AotS since 2010. Brittania holds a B.A. degree in Elementary Education and Special Education, and is certified in Middle School Mathematics, Language Arts, and Early Intervention. She is pursuing a Master’s Degree at Notre Dame of MD in Leadership of Exceptionalities. Brittania currently works as a 7th grade special education teacher in Baltimore County Public Schools. She was also a home facilitator for a 17 year old young man with autism, using facilitative communication (FC), augmentative alternative communication (AAC), and American Sign Language. Brittania volunteers for the Special Olympics. She first became interested in special needs education growing up with her younger brother who has autism.
AotS Cruise Staff - Ongoing/Rotational
We have hundreds of volunteer staff qualified who volunteer their time on our cruises throughout the year, who are professionals within the developmental disability industry, from around the country who provide input and feedback to our services. We actively include our staff in the review of our services after and during each cruise to ensure we are deploying the most current and appropriate expertise in the care of our children, and the consultative services we provide to the cruise industry.
Parents of Children with Special Needs
Lorilyn Badzik, Volunteer in the Special Needs Community
Lorilyn is a married mother of two young boys, both with special needs and has cruised with Autism on the Seas several times with her family. She has a background in Early Childhood Education, and has worked as a Special Education Classroom Aide, in addition to several years in the school district’s after school care program. Since learning of her own children’s diagnosis, Lorilyn has become active in the special needs community, helping to realize the potentials of those with special needs, as Lorilyn herself has Cerebral Palsy.
Andrew Coffey, Attorney at Law
Andrew Coffey is a married father of twin boys, one of whom is on the Autism Spectrum. Andrew and his family started cruising with Autism on Seas after attending a convention in 2009 and has since sailed with Autism on the Seas at least once a year. Andrew is a Board Certified Criminal Defense Attorney and has represented special needs children, including children with autism, in court helping them and their families through the criminal justice system.
Tonia Ferguson, Esq., Vice President, External Affairs, Autism Society
Tonia Ferguson is responsible for the Autism Society’s public policy and external communications. She was the director of Autism NOW: The National Autism Resource and Information Center. She is a parent of a child with Down syndrome and ASD, and she has trained families and advocates on special education and family support issues at the Arc of Maryland. Tonia was a Joseph P. Kennedy Foundation Fellow and worked for Sen. Christopher Dodd on education and early childhood issues. Before her time at the Arc, she managed a Family Support Project through the Administration on Developmental Disabilities.
Jim Catteau, Naval Officer - Guest Advisory Board Chairman
Meet the Guest Advisory Board
A career Naval Officer, Jim is the married father of two young adults, one of which is on the Autism spectrum. Although he has no formal training in special education or behavior management, Jim has over 21 years of experience raising his autistic child, with all of the trials, tribulations, and successes common to most Autistic and special needs families. Jim enjoys sharing this experience, both good and bad, with other families in the hope of having a positive impact on their lives. He also uses his extensive experience with navigating the peculiarities of the military health care system to help other sailors receive the services their special family members require. Although they only discovered Autism on the Seas and cruising in 2014, Jim and his family are seasoned travelers and have successfully overcome the difficulties frequently encountered with arranging the accommodations necessary to make family vacations possible.
ADA Legal Counsel
Nolan Klein - Law Offices of Nolan Klein
Joshua Entin - Entin & Della Fera