10 hours ago
Monday, June 15, 2009
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.