Last summer my son started "working" (I pay her to have him help her, can we still call that "work?") for a woman with many, many years experience teaching special ed. She'd retired from teaching and had opened a preschool in her home in our neighborhood. Long story short, soon as I caught wind of her I sunk my hooks in her and made her life miserable until she agreed to "hire" Rojo. Last summer was bumpy - lots of calls from the teacher to me and lots of me hoping, praying and promising things would get better.
"Instead of doing this next year," she said at our end-of-summer conference, "I think he should go to camp. He needs camp. He needs to gain some independence - try new things, become less rigid."
"Can't he do both?" I implored?
"We'll see," she said.
Starting in mid-March I again put the screws to her, and she relented. We agreed on an abbreviated day so he'd go home before he had historically begun to have problems. I adjusted his meds, returned to a kneeling position and crossed both fingers for good luck.
The phone never rang. On the few occasions she drove by or we bumped into each other in the neighborhood, she always smiled and said, "He's doing GREAT! What growth from last year!"
I followed her (and other's) suggestion, and signed him up way back in January for a camp that is tailor-made for kids with special needs. "It'll be good for him," everyone assured me, and I believed them.
We psyched him up for a full year, talked it up and tried to prepare him for all the food he would have to try, the different kids with different issues he'd be camping with, the fun counselors, taking a shower and sleeping in places he wasn't used to, on and on and on we went, verging on overboard.
Pulled into camp and his eyes got big as he saw a few wheel chairs being taken from the backs of cars. Lots of kids with behaviors he found perplexing. Kids that got into his personal space, said and did things he didn't know what to do with. In short - he wasn't in Kansas anymore.
In the bubble we've had him under for sixteen years, he's always been the most disabled in the bunch. He's lived, with a lot of help, in a world of mostly neuro-typicals. He's never had to be the one to stretch his compassion, stretch his tolerance, stretch his patience.
For a week he had to.
When we went up on the last night for the Friends and Family BBQ he was visibly miserable. He hadn't eaten much. He hadn't showered much. He hadn't pooped much. And he hadn't slept much. Apparently there were two boys in his cabin that were really loud and at night they "screamed."
Mama Bear almost packed him up and took him home right that minute - how dare ANYONE disturb my son's rest!
We didn't, however, we left, and in the morning I called the preschool teacher and requested a pep talk. She gave me one. She talked about how important it is to be pushed out of our comfort zone, how he needs to gain independence if he's ever going to live away from home, and let's face it, at some point he'll have to. She talked about how good it is for him to have the shoe on the other foot sometimes. She talked, and I listened, and when I had to leave shortly after that to go pick him up and bring him home, I was restored.
"I didn't like camp," he said right away, but within two hours of being home when he started talking to people on the phone that were welcoming him home, he said things like, "Great!" and "I loved it."
I don't know yet if we'll have him do camp again next year, but whether we do or whether we don't, we will continue to broaden his horizons, continue to push wide his self-made boundaries that we are guilty of solidly reinforcing. Whether or not he goes to camp, he's going places.
Carrie is a parent and advocate of a child with special needs and even more special gifts. She blogs at http://carrielink.blogspot.com/ where this is pretty much her favorite topic.