Not A Happy Camper!

Summertime is the season for sun, outdoor adventures, and long lazy days. It brings warm weather, swimming pools, an extended school year, and camps for kids. There are school forms, camp forms, forms for the doctor to sign, and a sense of urgency to register our children as soon as possible in order to avoid the dreaded “wait list” for these camps. Special children in particular can not be left to their own devices or have too much idle time. Many of our kids don’t know how to occupy themselves without a structured routine, which is why Summer school and camps are so important in filling those gaps. Brian is no exception to this and is most fortunate to participate in all of what the Summer has to offer. He has typically enjoyed all of his camp experiences- until recently.

I was looking forward to having Brian participate in a camp that he had attended in the past. He always seemed content both coming and going from this particular program, sans the initial “transition blues” that is typical Brian, especially on the first day, but then he would settle in. However, this year was different. Brian was not happy, not just on Day 1, but for the entire time he was at this camp. He “communicated” his displeasure by verbal protest and body language, but I honestly thought during those particular moments that he was just being a “teen with a tude”. I also thought there was never a problem at this camp before, so there was no reason not to send him. I had also arranged for Brian’s home behaviorist to come to camp and provide his counselor with support every day for 2 hours . This always worked out well for both the counselor and Brian in the past and I had no reason to believe it would be any different this year- but I was wrong.

While the behaviorist was there daily, Brian did participate in various camp activities, albeit briefly, preferring some more than others. Shockingly, he refused to go into the pool the first day, which is Brian’s favorite activity of all time! I should have known right then and there that something was wrong…The behaviorist was not there during pool time initially. The same thing happened again the following day- Brian did not want to go in the pool. The next day, the behaviorist was there during pool time, and Brian went in. Then the unthinkable happened- Brian had an accident in the pool. He hadn’t done that in years- I was truly shocked! I was also annoyed at myself for not “listening” more carefully when Brian was clearly communicating that he was unhappy. In retrospect, Brian did not want to get out of the car each morning and couldn’t wait to get into the car each afternoon. When my husband asked Brian how things went at the camp, ( which Jim mentioned by name) he whined and signed ” all done”. I am so sorry that I didn’t “get it” sooner in the week: it makes me so sad that I let Brian down. I honestly didn’t realize exactly how much Brian understood of what he didn’t like and attributed everything to adolescence and transition difficulties. It is moments exactly like these when I wish my son could speak and tell me what is bothering him.. It is also a stark reminder of how dependent we are on others to help us help Brian and how we always will be.. This very thought makes me both scared and grateful at the same time.

No one knows better than Jim and I how many and complex Brian’s needs are. Which is why Brian needs his own personal counselor at camp. I am also aware of how difficult it must be for a camp counselor to be placed with a multiply- disabled camper they have never worked with before. Which is also why I arrange for a behaviorist to “train” the counselor for a few hours each day. I’m not sure what more I could have done. I do also wonder whether the camp application that I painstakingly filled out was really looked at. Or how carefully were Brian’s needs considered before he was assigned a counselor?

It is obvious that there was a communication breakdown between home and camp. It also appeared that the counselor was overwhelmed by Brian, but didn’t want to say so. I felt like I had to “pull out” information daily as to what was going on. Thank goodness the behaviorist was there for a few hours each day and I was able to learn things that way. It was finally revealed that one morning Brian sat for a significant period of time doing nothing because he refused to move, despite the daily mentoring from the behaviorist. That was the last straw for me- he won’t be going back to this particular camp again.

I wish this camp experience had been a more positive one for Brian. It should have been, considering all the planning, time, and resources that went into it. I had also hoped that the line of communication between home and camp would have been more direct, consistent, and transparent. Although this was not the case, perhaps the silver lining was that Brian did clearly express his displeasure, the most I’ve ever seen him do, and I will make sure to take it more seriously next time. Maybe the camp was not equipped to manage Brian’s needs this year- if that was the case, they should not have accepted him into their program. I will never know exactly why Brian was so unhappy at camp this time, but what I do know is that some things in life are meant to reach their natural conclusion, regardless of the reasons. I believe this camp experience qualifies as one of those instances.

I may reach out to the camp with my concerns, just as an FYI, but haven’t determined exactly when. I’m sure I will be inspired to do so at the right time; I’m just not quite ready…In the meantime, there is still a Summer to be enjoyed and savored, which is exactly what Brian plans to do- especially in the pool! 🌊 🌊

Until next time…thanks for reading! 😊

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