Summer Camp

When the kids were little, we started putting them in summer day camps – typically at the Y, and mostly to keep them occupied, surrounded by other kids, learning to learn from other adults, and, to be quite honest, to give me a few hours of respite from three toddlers. As the years went on, summer camp became tied up in whatever sport they were involved in at the time….soccer, golf, dance……Last year, Big Man went away to Mammoth for a few days with the cross country team to train at altitude. Two years ago, the Princess spent two weeks in Orange County at a summer dance intensive.

We’ve had a much more difficult time with Little Man as far as summer camps go.  He did the Y one year I think.  Once he was diagnosed on the spectrum, I struggled with putting him anywhere. We had a disaster of a Lego robotics camp a few years back. I ended up pulling him out a couple days before the week was out. The instructors just didn’t have it in them to deal. I lost patience, and a bit of faith.

Last year, we found an amazing camp nearby. Well, one of my close friends found it online and sent me the link. Right away, it sounded perfect for our guy.  It’s was a coding camp…five days, six hours a day, of working with technology, generally through gaming. I won’t say he had a perfect experience – autism did still rear its ugly head a few times. But the director and instructors were willing to work with him. Not to mention, he wasn’t the sole high-functioning kiddo there. We were super impressed. Much more, he made one  very good friend he still keeps in touch with.

I started getting emails for this summer back in January. Originally, they weren’t going to have any sessions at the college nearby (a ten minute drive), but rather down in San Diego (45-60 minutes each way, depending upon traffic). I didn’t think we were going to be able to manage the logistics.  But then a few months ago, they did open sessions at the nearby campus and we signed him up right away.

This is the week of camp. He was anxious but excited yesterday morning.  He was talking about the programs he thought they might be using, really looking forward to learning.  But when I picked him up, the director said he’d had a bit of a rough afternoon. It is a LONG day – 8 hours to be exact. That’s a lot for him. Little Man wouldn’t even talk about what he’d done all day until a few hours after he got home. I do think he ran out of fuel, and lost the ability then to self-manage.  He was happy to go back today, waking at 6:30, and announcing, “Day 2!”.

I texted the director a bit ago, just giving him some hints and tips for dealing with Little Man. He responded right away, letting me know things were going well today, and that he was appreciative of the input.  Again, I’m sure our son isn’t the only spectrum kid they’re dealing with. He can’t be. But if you know one kid with autism, you know one kid with autism. They’re just as different from each other as anyone else.

I’m not picking him up today, as I have a work event, but I’m still anxious to hear how his day went. He is doing something he loves, so hopefully that keeps the issues to a minimum. And on Friday, we’ll get to meet his instructors and classmates, and see what he’s been doing all week.

The School Dance

Little Man is in seventh grade, which is technically  middle school around here. Middle school is 6th through 8th grade. His school though is really more of an extended, upper-grade elementary school, 4th through 8th grades (it’s 4-7 this year, and will go 4-8 next year).  They don’t change classrooms and teachers for every subject (he has math and science with one teacher, language arts and social studies with another teacher). They don’t have a locker room nor do they change for PE. The school looks and feels like an elementary school, for the most part.

The staff does realize their school is unique, which is great, but it also means they need to take steps as the kids progress to those upper grades on campus to prepare them for high school. With that in mind, the sixth and seventh grade leadership asked to be able to hold a dance for just their grades, for Halloween. I didn’t think anything of it when we got the recorded call from school with all the info. I didn’t think there was any way Little Man would willingly go to a school dance. So imagine my surprise when he brought the permission slip to me to sign! He wanted to go. All-righty then!

The dance was after school yesterday, running from 3pm – 4:15. I’d talked to him over the weekend and again yesterday morning he would have to stay the entire time as we were carpooling with his friend A, who is also in seventh grade. He seemed to get it. And he seemed okay with it. I told him to expect it to be loud.  “No worries, mom, I have my headphones!”

It was 3:20 when my phone pinged with a text. He said it was really loud. I told him to put his headphones on. He said he did, but it was still too loud. I reminded him I’d told him I was not going to pick him up early, and then when he asked why, I reminded him we were carpooling and it wouldn’t be fair to make A leave early when he was having a good time. Little Man sucked it up.

I arrived at school right at 4:15. I could see him pacing in the lobby. He had his headphones on, backpack in hand, ready to bolt out the door. One of my friends said he’d been there for some time, pacing and anxious. I could see the stress on his face. I don’t count it as a loss however. He went to a school dance. Yes, he only stayed in there for maybe a half an hour at maximum, but he went. He put himself into a social situation willingly.  He didn’t stay inside the entire time, but he went. My autistic child went to a school dance of his own volition. Isn’t that awesome?

Stop looking at me that way

I get it, a lot…that look…the one quite obviously asking, “Are you really going to let your child behave that way?” Trust me, if I had a choice, it would be anything but. Ah, the joys of parenting an autistic child.

He lacks social grace. Of the eleven goals currently on his IEP, no less than five involve social behavior.  We’ve been working on these skills intently for nearly four years.  He is better at it than he was four years ago, but he still has many moments I have to give the look back that says, “Yes, I’m completely aware my child is being an a#$ right now.” If it makes other people uncomfortable, which I can see it does, multiply their feelings times a billion and that’s close to where I’ll be on that scale.

Here’s what happens – if you talk down to however old you think he might be based upon his size, you’re lucky to get a rude look. He will usually growl.  He definitely won’t respond to you. If he’s not in the mood to talk, or doesn’t deem your question worthy of answering, you might be able to hear his eyeballs rolling to the back of his head, or, again, the growl.  Greeting people, ordering food, acknowledging someone has said something to you, saying thank you when someone has given you something or done something nice for you….those are only slowly working their way into “normal routine” for him. Most of the time, he must be reminded. I noticed in his classroom “contract” a line about just saying “thank you” or “thank you, that’s nice, but I don’t really want that right now” when a classmate makes something for him. I assumed there was an incident prompting that line, and I cringed in embarrassment, knowing exactly how that had probably gone down.

I believe he sees words as a commodity. He won’t use them unless it’s necessary. He still communicates, just in his own way. Sometimes I try to explain that to people. Sometimes, I just let it lay.  Sometimes when those awkward situations happen, I will bail the person out. Sometimes, we muddle through, and I let them think that yes, I am that awful mother letting her child behave like a total punk while I stand there watching. Sometimes we get a person who’s been around autistic people before, and a light will go on. They get it. And they give me the look of, “It’s okay, mom. We’re good here. I understand.” I like those people.