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.

I didn’t realize it mattered that much

Little Man had a great week at tech camp last week. It was worth every penny to know he was engaged, and doing something he loved, even if he was a challenge to his instructors at times. If you’re looking for a great tech camp, and the price tag doesn’t freak you out, I highly recommend iDTech camps. Best camp experience ever.

They held a family showcase the last day of camp. We met the instructors, were shown the classroom they’d spent the week in, and then Little Man gave us a presentation on what he’d created and learned all week. In the course of the afternoon, his instructor presented each student in LM’s group with a diploma of sorts, outlining what struck him most about each child, and how that will apply in the coding world. LM didn’t seem too interested in the whole process, except the part of showing us what he’d learned and made. Honestly, I didn’t understand even 5% of what he was talking about, but I knew he was happy, in his world. He’d done well.

We left for my Daddy’s the next morning. We arrived, unloaded the car, and headed for the kitchen, which is our usual protocol for a Daddy and Mom/Papa and Grandma visit. There on the counter sat LM’s diploma and certificate from camp. He’d put it there, knowing Papa and Grandma would see it. I didn’t realize it mattered that much to him. He was so proud of himself, but very quiet about it. The fact he’d made a point of showing them his certificate made it very clear. And my heart swelled.

He loved that camp. He was proud of himself. That doesn’t happen often with him. He spends more time focusing on his challenges, and he rarely gives himself kudos for his wins. This was a big win for all of us.

I keep thinking about seeing those certificates on the counter. I didn’t even know he’d brought them with him Saturday morning. I’m just so happy we found something that was just right for him. And I’m so happy he took pride in something he did.

“That Kid” at camp

Little Man is taking Intro to Java Coding through Minecraft tech camp this week. Awesome, right? He’s been (im)patiently waiting all summer for this week to arrive. There was no trouble Monday morning getting him up and out the door, except for a battle over his meds, which I gave in on.  He has been doing great this summer, unmedicated. But then again, he hasn’t really had to do anything he didn’t want to do. As I mentioned recently, he spends much of his days in front of his beloved screens, making videos, watching gamer videos, creating and playing in Minecraft, and playing video games. So why did I give in on the meds, knowing he was going to be spending a long day at camp, in a structured format? My thinking was this – he would be doing something that completely holds his interest, and would be in front of a screen most of the day.

He had some issues day one, when he got hungry. No problem – we sent him with snacks the next day. Things seemed to be going well – he happily got  out of the car each morning, and excitedly returned to the car every evening, excited to share what he’d learned, stories of his new friends, and what they’d created that day. And then yesterday….the moment I’d been fearful of, had been anxious of occurring…..it happened, the call from the camp director. He’d gone sideways – was being defiant and rude, wouldn’t cooperate and engage with what the class was doing. He wanted to do what he wanted to do on the computer, and was loudly voicing his opinion. I’m not going to lie – I said some bad words when I heard her voicemail. I called her back, and gave her some suggestions for dealing with him. I asked them to be firm with him, to set time parameters for him which seems to make it easier for him. Then I sent him a text, letting him know if he continued, if I received another phone call or had to come pick him up, he would be done with technology for the remainder of his summer. I also told him he would be taking his meds today and tomorrow.

I was nervous to pick him up yesterday. The director is the one who comes to the car to check kids in and out, and I asked her how the afternoon had gone. She said she hadn’t heard anything further from the instructor, so assumed he had been okay, and there hadn’t been any further incidents. Little Man reported the same when he got to the car. Whew.

Here’s the thing – he’s that kid all the teachers and directors know his name by day two. They know who he is. I hope they’re seeing his amazing side, not just his difficult, challenging, sometimes annoying side (I’m allowed to say he’s annoying – even knowing he’s not intentionally being a jerk). I know he’s “that kid.” That hurts. Here we are, four years past diagnosis, and I still go round and round on this…I would take it away, in an instant, because autism makes his daily life in this world so much harder. But I don’t want to take it away if it means he loses those incredible parts of him as well as the sucky parts. It’s just hard when your kid is that kid.

Lessons

Ethan started Lego Robotics camp on Monday. He was very excited to go, Legos being one of his obsessions. He was smiling hugely when I picked him up, and happy to go back Tuesday. By the time I picked him up Tuesday afternoon, his attitude was beginning to change. He said it was boring doing the same thing for three hours every day. And he was starting to make the usual noises that no one likes him, etc. I felt myself go into “fix-it, manage it” mode, as well as prepare-for-meltdown mode.  Yesterday, not an hour after I dropped him off, the phone rang. It was the camp instructor. Ethan was not cooperating. He was saying he felt sick (typical response from him lately when things aren’t going the way he wants them to go).  He was giving his building partners a rough go. He wanted to work alone (which no one, except the oldest kid in the camp was allowed to do due to lack of equipment). I got on the phone with Ethan, talked him down a little bit, and made him stay there.  It was a rough three hours for me and for him.  When I picked him up ten minutes early, he bolted out the door, so ready to be done.

Ethan and I had a talk in the car on the way home, another at bedtime last night, and one again in the car on the way to camp today. I told him I need to be able to take him places and trust I won’t get a phone call that he’s not cooperating. He has been given the tools to work his way through these situations, and I simply can’t be there every second of every day to manage it for him.  It’s been awhile since I had to remind him to use his words and not hiss or growl if someone is irritating him.

I had a brief talk with the instructor at drop-off this afternoon. He’s a young kid…..probably early twenties. I have no idea if he’s worked with any ASD kids before. I told him I’d talked with Ethan, and was bribing him with a Slurpee for better behavior today. I also gave him a brief lesson on dealing with a PDD kid who is also Oppositional/Defiant.  I think he got into a power struggle with E-man yesterday which is bound to put us where we ended up. I walked out of the room, fingers crossed, breath being held.

Will I have to teach every person who takes some sort of leadership role in E’s life how best to manage him? What NOT to do? It’s exhausting enough doing it on my own.  I feel bad for this instructor. I know he’s probably had difficult kids before, but ASD is a whole different ballgame. And I hate the thought that E might be remembered as that immature, pain in the butt kid.  At the same time I need Ethan to utilize the tools he’s been given, I have a huge need to protect him, and explain him.

I’m ready for this camp to be over. It hasn’t been the fabulous experience I’d hoped for.  I need more resources around here for camps that will give him the stimulus he needs mentally, while adequately accepting and handling his autism.