I have to admit, I have the same smile on my face as the other parents after I drop my son off at summer camp. A day to myself! I can get so much done at home! I can also relax a little, take a break, and know that my son is in good hands.
I want to hug the person who came up with Camp Boomerang, a YMCA day camp for kids on the autism spectrum. I want to hug the volunteers, mostly teenagers, who agree to get training and spend long hot days in the sun being a buddy for Ryan.
Without all of these people, Ryan would be at home all summer. He would never have the opportunity to experience camps like other kids. Every day, he gets to swim and play on the playground. He gets to do yoga, art, music therapy, archery, sports, hiking, and play outdoor games. He gets to spend time with typically developing kids, and gets special attention from a buddy.
He’s really growing from this camp opportunity. At our neighborhood pool, he put his face in the water for the first time. Someone must have taught him at camp. Or, he copied what the other kids were doing. Right now, Ryan is very aware of others and is more open than ever to copy what he sees other children doing.
It’s really amazing to see Ryan wake up in the morning with a smile on his face. He seems to really love camp. I say “seems,” because he never says much about it. If I ask him if he likes camp, he says yes. He shows how he feels more with his actions, like being ready and in the car on time for camp everyday, rather than with his words.
It’s hard to find activities that Ryan can enjoy, since they need to be structured and not too over stimulating. His buddy told me that he didn’t want to jump in the bouncy house one day. So they decided to swing instead. They are flexible and they need to be. You can’t assume that fun activities most kids enjoy will be fun for kids on the spectrum, especially if they have sensory processing disorder. Ryan doesn’t like the sound of the loud fan that keeps the bouncy house inflated. He also doesn’t like the closed in feeling and the closeness of other kids bouncing around him.
For me, it’s kind of neat to see other kids like Ryan being dropped off at camp and know that he is not alone. It’s good to see other autism parents and know that I am not alone. One thing about autism parents is that we don’t get out a lot. We tend to be isolated. Our children aren’t always capable of doing well in public. We avoid many places if we can.
But here we are, dropping our kids off at summer camp for kids on the autism spectrum. We look at each other with knowing glances. We smile at the familiar behavior of the children we are ushering toward the camp meeting spot. I see big kids holding their parent’s hand through the parking lot, even though they seem too old for that. They could bolt. They don’t always understand the danger of a parking lot. I see kids taking a long time to get out of the car. Transitioning is hard. I see the same uneven gait as my son, arms flapping, with happy faces that have a dreamy, far away look, enjoying a rich inner life.
And I hear bits of parents conversations as they try to remember to tell everything to the camp counselors. They ask lots of questions. Is he eating his lunch? Did he do o.k. in yoga today? Did he stay with the group? Did he finally participate in art class?
We all sort of hang around the parking lot an extra minute, craning our necks to see if our child is doing o.k. as the camp buddies lead their kids toward the first activity. Then I see that the smiles on those parents faces match my own as we drive away knowing all is well.