Friday, July 21, 2006

Notes on Camp — The Summer Sort, That Is

So we did it. We dropped out of camp. Actually we dropped out of camp even before we dropped in. We dropped out on July 4th, the day before camp was to begin. It was our own little Independence Day celebration, and there were even some verbal fireworks, but not until several days later when I spoke with the camp staff to ask for a refund.

What cinched it for us was the fact that I revisited the website where I'd read about the camp we'd signed up for, and I took a closer look at the favorable "parent review." Turns out the favorable review of the camp, written under the moniker "Informed Parent" had an email address that, when Googled, brought one back to the camp director's name. In other words, the only favorable review of the camp was written by the camp's director.

This did not inspire.

There had been earlier red flags. There was the fact that when I'd asked about the child to counselor ratio when the children are at the public swimming pool — a question that should have an easy answer like 3:1, or 4:1, or 5:1 — I got an evasive answer: "Your child will never be unsupervised at the pool."

This was a bit alarming. I assumed they'd be supervised — the question was in what ratio. Being supervised at the pool should be a given, whether NT or autie.

And then there was the fact that they had really no interest at all in knowing what Sweet M had been doing with her current reading program. They were going to make Wilson Fundamentals work for her.

That was a concern. Especially since we know that Wilson Fundamentals doesn't work for her.

And then there was the fact that when I asked for a schedule of a typical day — so that I could prep Sweet M for a new routine — it took a week to get it because the director had to type it up especially for me. There was no schedule typed up that could simply be emailed to me. They didn't have a prepared schedule a week before camp was to start.

And, of course, there was the big ole flashing red light of Sweet M's week of silence as she dreaded the prospect of going to camp.

Oprah has this line she uses about how first God whispers to you, then she gives a holler, and then she clobbers you over the head. Finding out that the director had written his own review posing as a camp parent was the clobbering over the head.

So we requested a refund — again — and this time they gave us one, albeit a partial one, that at least helps pay for some of the activities and tutoring that we're improvising.

Inspired in part by MOM-NOS's decision to create Camp Bud for the summer, but also by the complete paucity of options — and what was probably a near disaster with this year's camp try — we decided to create Camp Sweet M home this summer.

Instead of subscribing to the clock-discipline of getting up at 6 or 7 to drop her off at a bus by 7 or at camp by 8, we sleep in, getting up when we're rested. I don't think we've done this since Sweet M was born. It is an epiphany to be rested.

Then, after we've had a little breakfast, we do some summer reading and math homework that her teachers had prepared in June.

Then she watches some television and I go to work on my project that is still waiting for a contract, but that has been keeping roof over head and airconditioner on at least part of the time.

Then while I'm out at work, Sweet M's father takes her to speech therapy, or to her new karate class. She'd been asking to take karate, and now seemed the time, as her afternoons are lazy and open.

And next week, as speech therapy ends for the summer, her teacher from last year will start coming twice a week to tutor her in reading so that she doesn't lose ground, and maybe even takes a leap ahead.

And Sweet M is making drawings for her school friends, and sending them as her way of saying "hi."

So many camps have a native American theme — seems Sweet M's does as well. And look how happy those campers look!

I feel as though we stepped out of jail — time jail — where the walls were made of school schedules and bus schedules and other people's agendas for us and our child.

I understand now why people choose to home school, as Kyra is doing for Fluffy. It is delicious — utterly delicious — if your work life and circumstances permit it.

Of course improvising Camp Sweet M has taken a bit of time. You've seen my posts per week have plummeted. Hopefully what we've lost in quantity we will be able to make up in quality — quality here and quality time with our dear girl.

And so goodbye and good riddance to the myth that all well-loved and well-cared for kids go to camp.



kristina said...

Camp Autism's Edges! Or, Camp M. Sweet.

Hoping you've had to AC on most of the time this past week.

I wait your notes on the other sort of camp, quand ca c'est possible!

Susan Senator said...

Bravo! I totally agree!

Tara said...

Very happy to read an update on Sweet M. No summer school or camp for my Littleman this year and I have to say shrugging off a rigid routine has been rather nice. Someday, there will be better choices for our children with autism, but those wheels grind slowly don't they?

KathyIggy said...

Megan went to day camp for a week. The day camp was sponsored by our local autism society, Illinois State University's Autism Project, and Easter Seals. She had a great time. It was one of the few activities we've ever had her in where there was no crying and absolutely no complaints. She swam, hiked, canoed, and rode horses. They had a daily schedule discussed at the beginning of each day to decrease anxiety, and also had academic and social skills time. I think she felt comfortable to be herself.

MothersVox said...

Kathyiggy, That camp sounds great! Would that such opportunities abounded for our kids! But for now, I'm loving our freeform campless summer like Tara's, and Susan's and Mom-NOS's. I wish I'd seen Susan's Washington Post article sooner!

And who knows, perhaps someday I will write about that other sort of camp, though it seems that Sontag had it well covered!

mumkeepingsane said...

Hi there. I enjoyed reading your post. Sounds like you're having a peaceful summer.

We're doing the same thing. I keep getting asked what the kids are in this summer. Maybe instead of my normal response...nothing...I should start saying "they're in M&P relaxation camp or some such thing.

I am having a great time spending the summer unstructured with my boys, one NT and one ASD.

Good for you for doing what was best for you and Sweet M.

Daisy said...

I like the concept of "Camp at Home". We've been successful with camps that serve El Grande's other disability -- blindness. These camps, however, have all the elements an Aspergers kid needs, too -- close supervision, structured activities, schedule, etc. The staff are all trained and know disabilities in general, which leaves them open to adapting to autism as well.