All 3 of my boys are attending a typical day camp this week. With this there has been a lot of joy- especially for Jacob, this week of camp has been a week of growth- he is loving the songs they are singing, he is gaining independence, and he has so many stories to tell me each night it is amazing!
For David, I was realistic, if he makes it at camp all week it will be something huge to celebrate. David's energy and abilities fluctuate all day every day. On one end, David is a calm observer who loves to watch what is going on and quietly participate. However, when overwhelmed or over excited, the best description of Davis is the Tazmanian Devil. He can destroy a room in under a minute! His energy is unmatched and he doesn't respond well to redirection or limit setting when he is busy being Tazmanian Devil like.
I hoped for David that he would enjoy being surrounded by those in a Jewish camp program, that he would enjoy the songs, the art experiences, and would smile and laugh each day. I knew that it was likely that there would be times that David would struggle, and I expected that I would hear from the camp at some point that David was struggling and that camp was too much for David. It is now Thursday night, and while I heard from camp today it was because David got overheated and had seizures. His counselors seem to have really tapped into who David is, and have understood the importance of balancing David's time with the group with some down time. His senior counselor has truly bonded with David and greets him with enthusiasm each day. Camp has been more than I could have asked for this week for David and we will end the week knowing we have had success!
For Matthew, the hardest part is that the things he struggles with always border on "typical kid stuff" but there is always that extra social element that matthew does not understand. It has been a hard week for me trying to balance allowing Matthew to simply be a kid, and holding him to the standard that I think is important.
I have always believed that for every time that Matthew gets away with breaking a rule or doing an inappropriate behavior it is a set back for him. Matthew takes 100 times longer to learn and follow rules than your average child. It is work to teach him all of the parts of social interaction. Given all that goes into me teaching Matthew the rules of social etiquette, I stress to everyone with him what we are working on and how important it is to set limits for Matthew.
Before camp started, I was clear with his counselor that it was important to set boundaries for Matthew on the first day- no hugging of other kids should be allowed, language needed to be appropriate and all rules should be stated clearly. On the first day of camp Matthew came home and told me that he had taken his shirt off and was laughing- not a major transgression, but if Matthew is allowed to take his shirt off at an inappropriate time, and it is seen as acceptable, he will take his shirt off again, and it may be less appropriate. He has tried to take his shirt off in the mall before, at a party, and at a wedding. Therefor, my response is always quick and clear- shirts stay on unless you are swimming. This was not a major transgression, but was my first cause for concern that the staff was not understanding the importance of limit setting.
As the first night of camp went on, Matthew shared that he talked to someone's friend on their cell phone, that he was hugging the kids, and that he kissed a counselor. Again I reiterated to Matthew our basic family rules- no talking to people we don't know, and our bodies stay to ourselves and we do not hug and kiss others who are not family members. In the morning I shared with the counselor what Matthew had told me, and asked that she please ensure that he is supervised because given his cognitive limitations, Matthew is not like other 10 year olds. The counselor shared how cute it was that matthew liked a girl, and had a crush but promised to stay on top of it. I completely understand that the staff at any camp is young, and that is often what makes camp so wonderful It is a wonderful aspect of the camp the boys are attending, as the energy level of the staff is unmatched! However, the weakness is that there is a limit of life experience, and especially when dealing with children with special needs, this presents problems.
Tonight was the overnight for Matthew's age group at camp, and I have torn myself apart trying to figure out what to do. Was Matthew appropriate for an overnight? Would it be good for him? Would it be good for the rest of the group if he stayed over? Would he be able to handle an overnight? After much struggling, I decided that the best choice was a compromise- Matthew could stay late at camp until 8:30 and then I would pick him up. This gave him the opportunity to participate in the fun of a sleepover, but he would sleep at home thereby giving him supervision and everyone else some "non matthew time".
When David, Jacob and I went to pick up Matthew, I was so happy with my decision, as it gave me an inside peak into camp. First and foremost, Jacob is essentially a little "camp mascot" greeted by all of the staff and older kids. He shined, and loved the limelight. David was greeted warmly by many staff, and was also greeted by some of the older children. He loved the attention, and it was great to see him shine.
We arrived at Talent Show time, and Matthew had talents to share! It was awesome to hear him sing with the music director and to see the campers and staff sing along with him. It was even more amazing to see him play the camp drum set and watch the staff look at him with awe and amazement as they realized what an incredible talent he has as a drummer. I also enjoyed seeing the children relate to Matthew. They offered support and kindness and at times I could see that he was frustrating them. As the kids were sitting watching the talent show, Matthew was up and moving constantly. As the other children understood that one act each was the rule of thumb, Matthew was happy to have his own personal talent show singing song after song.
The children were kind but it was obvious to me that Matthew's limitations were clear to the kids. It was fabulous to see how much kindness the children showed to Matthew, and after he played the drums, it was an amazing mom moment to see the children clap and cheer as they supported his natural drumming ability!
I think I made the right call by having Matthew attend the overnight until 8:30. I will always be happy that I got to see Matthew at the Talent Show, and it was great to see camp in action. My concerns about Matthew as a camper were validated as I watched the effort he required for the staff, but I had not given the camp enough credit for how dedicated they were to all of my children. The staff each showed such care towards Matthew, David and Jacob. The spirit of the counselors was incredible and they were a fabulous team of young people.
I am so thankful that my boys have had an opportunity to attend a typical camp program- there is no other experience like it in the world. I will always have to work on giving Matthew space to be a kid, balanced with ensuring that limits are set so that he continues to learn all of the skills that he lacks. For tonight though, he left the overnight as the boy who plays drums amazingly well, and to me that is reason to celebrate!
- I am a single mom of three amazing boys! All three of my sons entered my family through adoption. All three of my boys have developmental disabilities. My oldest son, Matthew has been diagnosed with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and Bipolar Disorder. David, my middle son, has a genetic condition, he has a duplication on his 15th chromosome which leads to autism like symptoms, seizures and learning challenges. My youngest son, Jacob has learning disabilities. Each of my children bring unique challengs to our family and also bring their own personality and joys to our everyday life!