Monday, June 15, 2009

A Not-So-Typical Summer Camp



Last Friday afternoon, Ethan, James and I met my friend and her two kids at a gymnasium. Ethan had a wonderful time jumping off the trampoline into the foam pit with my friend’s daughter. When the play date was over, Ethan turned to her and said, “When can we see ourselves again?”
This pronoun-mangled statement highlights how Ethan’s autism makes him struggle socially. Using the correct syntax in sentences and reading facial cues make conversation with his peers difficult. Many times, a peer will have to say Ethan's name repeatedly to get his attention. He’ll sometimes respond with silly answers or hyperactivity, which only confuse his peers more.
Ethan’s social struggles made me seriously consider enrolling him in a summer camp for autistic kids. He had a ball at the camp last year, getting his sensory-seeking needs met with swimming and going to bounce houses and parks. The counselors understand autism, so they don’t blink an eye when a boy has a meltdown over not getting to play his CD in the car or has a difficult time transitioning from playing at the park to getting back in the car to go home.
Yet, Ethan had made so much progress socially this year, I wondered whether he was ready to be in a camp with typical kids. After all, the down side of the being in a camp with all autistic kids is that there aren’t any good peer models for Ethan to learn social skills.
In the spring, I looked around for “typical kids” summer camps, but didn’t find any that I felt completely confident about. Often these camps only lasted a week or two, so I worried that by the time Ethan got comfortable with the other kids, it would be over. Or worse, he wouldn’t like it and just refuse to go. So I went with my gut feeling and signed him up for 10 weeks of Camp Le'ale'a.
Two weeks into camp, I’m glad I went with my gut. Even though Ethan may not be getting good peer social models, he’s getting great help from the counselors. They patiently listen to Ethan’s perseverative, one-sided conversations about how many zeros are in the number google. They meet his sensory needs with rough-housing in the park. And yesterday, he excitedly told me that he jumped off the diving board at the swimming pool for the first time.
At this camp, Ethan doesn't have to worry about whether he said or did the right thing to fit in with his peers. When I pick him up, he’s tired and happy, which is how any parent wants to see their kids spending their summer days.

9 comments:

a corgi said...

I think you made the best choice for your son!! I have a 23 y/o daughter with Asperger's, I do know she did so much better with activities that didn't push her too much out of her comfort zone. Seems like your boy is enjoying his summer and I agree, that is what matters the most!

betty

bernthis said...

I always go with my gut and that little voice in my head. I've ignored both of them enough to know I need to listen to them.

jabblog said...

It's always difficult making choices for one's children but you certainly seem to have found the answer for Ethan. You can breathe out now . . .

Wayfaring Wanderer said...

You can never go wrong when going with your gut! Well, okay, maybe sometimes, but those are just lessons learned :)

Cookie said...

Sounds like a great place. I'm glad he's happy there. It's so hard to have to make decisions about what's best for our kids. I often wish becoming a parent came with a crystal ball.

hopefulparents said...

I found your blog with a google search. I am always looking for blogs of parents with kids who have special needs.

I am right there with ya with the camp thing. I have my son (PDD-NOS) in a day camp at our gym this summer. This will be his third summer doing it, though last year I had to pull him from it early.

But like your son, he's just been in so much therapy this year and made so much progress that I'm hopeful he can swing it. (The camp doesn't start until mid-July.)

I guess you just have to go with "mother's intuition!" ;)

Kathleen said...

I am glad it is working out for you both, as you need some quality time for you over the summer too. always best to go with your gut feeling. Hope he continues to enjoy himself!

Tanya @ TeenAutism said...

That sounds like a great camp! And I love what Ethan said to your friend's daughter. Nigel has said the exact same thing before!

LceeL said...

Our Asperger's boy is getting ready to go to college. Getting him into group therapy and similar camps to what you've selected for your boy is what we think served him best. There is strong hope now that he WILL be able to live on his own - whereas when he was younger, that picture didn't look so rosey.