A couple of weeks ago, I had a crazy idea. I wanted Beth to go to a “typical” summer camp where she would have social role models to get ready for Kindergarten in the fall. The closest high-quality summer camp with a good reputation in our area happens to be a couple of miles down the street from our house. The camp is held at a private preschool/K facility and grounds, which also happens to be where Beth’s autism red flag was first raised.
Beth attended preschool at about age 2.5, and within 2 weeks we were called in and the preschool teacher and director voiced their extreme concern for our daughter. Then came the evaluations, diagnosis, therapies, and, after a short while, we took Beth out of the school because her anxiety was through the roof. She could not handle the school it at all.
Obviously, the school was a source of extreme pain for me. Before Beth quit the school, I ordered a ton of Christmas stuff for the school fundraiser and the director called to ask if I would pick it up. I said I would, but I could not go back to the school, because I knew I would walk through the door and break down in tears. So, I just didn’t pick it up. For about a year I avoided driving by the school because I could not cope with the painful memories. After about a year, I would at least drive by the school, but it still stung.
And here I was a couple of weeks ago picking up the phone, talking to the director, and I was asking if my child could attend camp and if I could act as her aid. Not surprisingly the director said they never had a parent act as an aid before. But surprisingly they said sure, let’s give it a try. Proving once again that people will often say yes if you just ask.
So today was our first day of summer camp at a place of old pain. I saw the rocker in the playground where Beth tried desperately to sooth herself (and one time rocked so hard she hit her face on the rocker and busted her lip open), the playground with wood chips she used to throw as a stim (they finally just gave up on redirecting her and gave her a bucket to fill with wood chips), and the preschool room where she had all her sensory meltdowns and sleepless nap times where she paced the floors filled with anxiety.
Beth was with the younger children (around 3-4 years old) most of her time at camp today, because that was the only slot open in camp. Socially it was a perfect fit, so I am actually happy she is in the “younger room.” But in other ways she was ahead of the other kids and it was great to witness that (she can swim when the others were just getting used to the water, she preferred to use markers and they liked the stamps, she was doing jigsaw puzzles when many were still doing inset puzzles, she could dress/toilet/wash hands better, and her use of language was above the other kids).
I see camp as a great opportunity for Beth this summer, but also see it as in incredibly informative experience for me. I am spending time with kids on her social level and I can observe what they like to do so that I can carry that over to home and play dates. Also, I have a better idea what needs to be in her Individualized Education Plan (IEP) for Kindergarten in the fall.
How did I feel? Today I was happy to be there and happy she was coping and tuning into the other children. Autism has taught me well. It has taught me how to focus on the positive, accept the challenges, and put all energy into helping my child succeed and not waste it elsewhere. I feel very hopeful that Beth will learn a lot in summer camp and that it will be a positive and healing experience for both of us.