Tag

camp

Things that made me cry today, in no particular order

lake

-Listening to one of our campers play and sing a song she wrote on her ukelele, about how much she loves camp.

-Watching one of our little 6-year-olds silently cry. And when I said, “I’m feeling really sad about camp ending. Are you?” he heavily sighed, wiped his eye, and said, “Yeah, I am.”

-Watching another one of our little 6-year-olds say goodbye to our therapy dog. He knelt down, and whispered in Cadet’s ear, “Bye, Cadet. It’s my last day of camp.” He then told us, “Cadet is so sad it’s the end of camp. Cadet wishes he could come back every day. Cadet is going to miss camp.”

-A thirteen-year-old camper saying, “I don’t want to go to school. I wish camp could be forever.”

-Four nine- through thirteen-year-olds making a conga line in the water during free swim

-Taking one last picture of our backyard this morning, and one last picture of the lake yesterday afternoon.

-The idea that yet another summer is done, in the blink of an eye

backyard

Feeling the feelings

“I’m so sad!” He sobs. “I don’t want to leave. I’m going to miss it so much!” Tears stream down his face as he clings to his mom, then clings to his counselors, then back to his mom.

It’s the last day of camp. And he’s heartbroken.

We started previewing the end of camp (Week 7) during the middle of camp (Week 5). Because it takes that long to preview, to process, to feel, to cope. We talked about it every day. And each camper’s response was different. Some ignored, some yelled, some hit, some cried, some became clingy and some became distant.

This little guy did a lot of the above. Some days he was super silly, some days he claimed exhaustion and refused to participate. Some days he got angry and hit.

But on this last day? He was just sad. And as he screamed and wailed about how much he didn’t want to leave, how sad he was, how much he would miss camp, my heart broke for him. Because even as staff, we feel that feeling too. Camp is not just special for our kids, it’s special for us, too. And as I heard him cry over and over again “I feel so sad,” I couldn’t help but realize how huge that was. This kiddo was not hitting, not shutting down, not fighting with other campers, not telling staff that he hates them. He was feeling his feelings. He was labeling his feelings. Do you see how huge that is?? So I felt sad for him. We all did. But in addition to that sadness (not instead of, not a replacement, we spend all summer teaching our kids that they can feel multiple feelings and that it’s okay, and so can we), I felt proud. He was labeling his feelings. He was feeling them for what they are. And that, is a major success.

I put on my Superflex cape

One of our littlest guys came into camp very anxious today. 
“I do not have my bathing suit!” He exclaimed, as he hopped from one foot to the other, shaking his arms out as he did. 

We already knew this, as his mom had already called us, told us that he didn’t have his bathing suit, told us that she had previewed with him that it would be okay for him to get his clothes wet during Water Games, and that she had packed another set of clothes for him to change into after. There had been panic and tears from him in the morning and she said to reassure him that she would not be upset if he got his clothes wet.

Several hours and a lot of processing later, I found his group in line for the bathrooms. I stood back so I could listen to what he was telling his little friend. 
“Guess what happened!” He exclaimed to her, hopping again. “Mom did not have my bathing suit! So I do not have it! But I was brave! And I put on my Superflex cape and I can get wet in my clothes!”

He then looked up and saw me standing there, with a grin on my face. He jumped up and down, gave me a toothless grin, and said, “And….Jen K. feels PROUD of me!!!” I went over and gave him a high-five and told him yes, I sure was proud of him.

Each staff member that he came across, he relayed the story to. And I never got tired of hearing it. “I did not have my bathing suit! I was upset this morning! But I did not let Glassman into my brain and I did not have too big of a reaction! And I did not let Rockbrain into my brain either! I put on my Superflex cape to be flexible and now you are PROUD of me!”

And we were. So, so proud. 

Little snippits

Snippits of thoughts that I have tried to turn into blog posts but can’t, yet:

–Being a middle school or high school girl is hard. I so remember. It’s hard enough for a neurotypical girl, and when you add an autism or other social-communication diagnosis, it makes it that much harder.

–Endings, transitions, change are so hard. We as staff dread the end of the summer – and it’s that much harder on our kids. Who don’t necessarily have a happy transition back to school coming, who might not even know if they’ll make it through this year at school, who don’t have friends to look forward to seeing, who are dreading leaving camp, a place where they have safely been nurtured and gently pushed forward, and observed in a non-judgmental way, and supported no matter what they said or did. And so the transition behaviors we see…well, they just make sense. It makes sense that kids revert to old behaviors that had been extinguished. It makes sense that there is more stimming, more scripting, more tears, more anger, more hitting. It makes sense that there is yelling at friends and staff, trying to burn bridges that were made, because isn’t it easier to leave if you convince yourself there’s nothing behind to miss? We see it every year and it breaks my heart every year because I know that however hard it is for me, it’s a million times harder for them.

–I keep replaying a conversation that we had with one of our 10-year-olds the other day as she struggled through a meltdown. “What do I do when I’m not mad, I’m just sad?!?!” she screamed, as she sobbed and lunged herself at us, trying to find relief. “You have no idea how this feels!!! I’ve never been so mad and it’s all in my body!!” she screamed, as she shook and her teeth chattered. You could see the anger and sadness and despair swirling throughout her body. While we sat with her through it, we took turns calmly empathizing with her. “I do know how that feels,” I softly and slowly told her. “No you don’t!!!!!” I waited. “I do,” I said. “I hate that mad feeling. I know what it’s like to be so mad that the best solution seems to be to use my body to calm myself down.” She stopped screaming and looked at me. My co-worker and I spent the next hour or so empathizing and sharing bits and pieces from our own life, just tidbits that might be helpful, but all the while….my heart was breaking. Because we weren’t lying, we DID know how this girl felt. It’s just that we are able to internalize it. Keep it inside of us. And who knows, who’s to say that’s better? Who’s to say that walking around with panic and anger and despair inside of us is better than screaming and crying and hitting until it all comes out? 

Collaborative Problem Solving works. Like, really, really works. Think back to when you were a kid, or a teen, or even now at work in a meeting. Are you more likely to do something when you are told to do it? Or do you feel better, and are you more likely to agree and compromise when you’ve been able to share your thoughts and feelings, to a non-judging listener, and when you’ve been able to be a part of the solution? Our kids are brilliant. BRILLIANT. And sometimes they just need to be heard. And usually they’re right. Try to compromise with them, let them be heard, and you’ll be astounded at the difference it makes.

–And, a related, reminder: kids are doing the best they can. They really are. They might annoy you, push your buttons, frustrate you beyond belief, but if you see it through the lens of, “They are doing the best they can with what they have,” it helps. (And, as always, a connection to us: we are doing the best we can, with what we have, too.) Compassion, empathy, understanding. 

 

To the mom I met last weekend

Hi. I’m so glad that Charlie* is coming to our summer program this year. I’m so glad you brought him to the meet and greet a few days ago.

I know you were worried. When I sat down next to you, while Charlie was with his summer group and summer counselors, you gave me a tense smile and said, “I’m so embarrassed. He keeps saying bathroom words.” You went on to explain how awful he was behaving. That no other kids were saying poop or fart in response to questions. That during the year he had worked with his speech-language therapist who had provided him with social stories that were effective, and the bathroom talk had been extinguished. That you were petrified that it had returned.

When I gave you a smile and told you that this was SO common, that I had seen it a million times, I wasn’t trying to make light of your fears. I really was telling the truth. When I told you that potty talk doesn’t make any of us bat an eye, I was telling the truth. When I told you that it makes perfect sense that he’d resort to potty talk today, I was telling the truth. Charlie is 5 years old. Five year olds love potty talk. It’s silly and goofy and it’s a fun way for them to make each other laugh and connect. Charlie also happens to have an autism spectrum diagnosis. He has language, but anxiety and fear prevail over language. He was put into a new environment, with new kids, and new staff, for the first time all year. That would make ME nervous! So Charlie turned to the words that are easy for him, that he knows, that he could easily access. And those happened to be “poop” and “fart.” I promise you, this is the truth. I promise you, not a single one of us ever thought, or even will think, that he is “poorly behaved,” “trouble-causing,” or “disrespectful.”

When you left and told me, “Charlie said he loves this place!” I was thrilled. That was our goal for the meet-and-greet. To get each and every kiddo feeling like, yes, this is a place they will be safe and have fun this summer. You then followed it up with your disclaimer and fears, “But, he didn’t listen to a word anyone said.” My reply: “But he sat with the other kids. He kept his body in the group. He kept his body safe. He shared some laughs and some words. So from our point of view? It was a huge success.”

I was telling the truth.

We will work with Charlie all summer. We will help him find and access his language. We will teach him the “expected” and “unexpected” times to use potty talk. We will provide him with words and visuals to help him share his thoughts even if verbal expression isn’t accessible.

We are thrilled Charlie is here. We are thrilled you are here. You are in the right place.

I am telling you the truth.

 

 

*not his real name

The end.

It was a wonderful summer. The kids had a great time, the staff enjoyed themselves, and I loved (almost) every moment. There is something so unique to camp. Working outside, breathing in fresh air for 8 hours a day. Seeing the kids swim and boat and do arts and crafts but also teaching them interpersonal, social thinking skills to make changes and last a lifetime. For a seven week program, we do some pretty great work with them. Today was our last day. I had been dreading this for about two weeks now. The anticipation is what is so hard for me — knowing each moment is the “last” of something. Despite the heartwrenching tears I cried after the last car pulled away, I’m glad it’s finally done so I don’t have to anticipate goodbye anymore.

If it’s this hard for me, and I am (relatively) neurotypical, I cannot even begin to imagine what this is like for our campers. Their sensitivities, fears, rigidity that come with their autism and their souls are magnified during the last two weeks. Meltdowns are frequent, behaviors regress. I can’t imagine what it’s like. For seven weeks, they spent their days safe, loved, nurtured, helped, guided, and most importantly, around adults who cared and around kids who were like them. It’s a safety-zone for them. A safe haven. And then they realize: not only is camp over, but SCHOOL is starting. For many of them, school is a place where they’re bullied. Left out. Anxious and depressed. Fall behind. Left alone.

I pick up on all of their energies, their fears and worries and dreads. I’ve felt it all the past two weeks — I am porous and permeable like they are, and I have felt it. And oh, it hurts.

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