I tend to be a pretty positive person. Being realistic and having realistic expectations is important but I find myself having a glass half full mindset still poking through most of the time. As a mom, this personality trait has been an advantage most of the time, leading us to push our children into trying or experiencing new things that can often seem like too much if you have a child on the spectrum. We have been fortunate, and most of the time find ourselves coming out with a fairly positive experience to mark down at the end. But occasionally, we find ourselves in a spot where real life just isn’t on our side, where the pushing for more just leads to an overall unpleasant experience. This past week was just that for us.
Every year since Damion started Kindergarten, he has been offered a great opportunity through our county board of developmental disabilities where he can attend a week-long summer camp ran through the local YMCA. There are options on the weeks that you can choose, as this goes along with their regular summer camp and they reserve a few spots each week for these kiddos served through the board of DD to join in. They offer one-on-one aids or just extra helpers if you feel your child needs it. You complete a form to let them know of any other accommodations that your child may need for the camp as well. On top of all that, the Board of DD covers the cost. I have always thought that it sounded like such a great program for these kids; Time to be outside, try some new fun things, and get some work on socializing with other kids.
But even though it sounded like a great program I never signed Damion up. I expected the program to be just too much change and wasn’t sure how well he would do. It can take Damion some time to adjust to knew things. I thought even though it sounded great, it may not go well for him. So, every year I was offered, I opted out, until this year.
I finally decided to sign Damion up for a week. He had been doing so well in school. We have been going strong with so much new overall. My positivity took hold and I thought that even though it may be an adjustment, it was one we could work through. My hopes were so high. Unfortunately, I was wrong on this one.
I did all the prep I could think of; met the helpers and aids ahead of time, talked to Damion about camp, made up a picture schedule, I even packed snack rewards to try and get through any unpreferred tasks. I found out that they had swimming on the agenda for every afternoon, which he loves, so I was hopeful that would be a great incentive to get him through the rest of the day too. First day drop off went pretty smooth. I gave directions and tips to his assigned aid and headed out.
I was so hopeful that I would get good news at pickup. I even got there a little early, thinking that if they were outside, I could observe how he was doing from my car without being seen. But that boy doesn’t miss anything, I was spotted right away, but oh well. Then the news of the day came from his aid that it hadn’t been the best day. Even the swimming, which I thought would be an easy win, was a rough part. She told me that the pool is very crowded at swimming time and he didn’t do well with that. We talked a bit, discussed suggestions on changes that could be made to make the next day go a little bit smoother. On the way home, I asked him what his favorite part, hoping that I could pick out a good point to highlight with him for the next day, But the only reply I got was, “Did you cry?” My heart sank a bit, but that glass half full mindset was still at work. First days can be hard, I was still hopeful that tomorrow he would know what to expect and it would be a better day.
He was a little upset that night when he found out he had to go back again. But we talked through it all, made up a schedule again for the day (I even added in a photo I had gotten of him with his aid), and by the end of our talk, he seemed ok with everything. “4 more camps”, he went off saying as we headed that way that next morning. He didn’t exactly seem excited, but he wasn’t upset, and seemed prepared for the day.
I explained again at drop off how he really liked schedules and working through hard parts with a reward break. I suggested that they write out their planned schedule on the list I had printed for him (I would have done it myself if I knew what it was). I kissed him goodbye and told him I would pick him up later.
Only about 15 or so minutes went by before I got a call that he was upset and they didn’t think it would be a good idea to take him to the camp for the day. So, I headed back to pick him up. Luckily, we had stayed in town pretty close by. When I went to pick him up, they heard me saying to him “no more camp, all done camp” as I loaded him into the car. His aid then mentioned that she was still set to be there through the end of the week so I could bring him back and try again the next day if I wanted. I explained to her that he was a smart guy, and unfortunately, he would remember what to do to get picked up early, so there was no reason to try again. I knew that giving into the crying this early on meant the fate had been set for the rest of the week. She handed me back his list and I did take note that nothing had been written on it by them.
Here is the thing, I was fine that they called. I was fine to pick him up. It is not my goal to torture him, but it is my goal to push him. To be honest, I was a bit frustrated that it really seems like they didn’t try any of my suggestions to help him adjust before calling me. I can’t say for sure that it would have gone any better, but it may have. It may have been just what he needed. If I could go back and have a do over, I would have reached out to his school aid to see if we could have hired her for the week, since she always does so well with him. But hindsight is always 20/20.
Change is hard. The truth is that prepping ahead of time can really help, but sometimes all the prepping in the world will not make a new thing go well. Especially if the new thing takes place in a small-time frame to begin with. I wish my positivity would have given us a new outcome this time around, but reality just wasn’t having it this week. It is sometimes tough to gauge how much pushing is too much, and sometimes the only way you find out is from these setbacks telling you to ease up a bit. Summer camp was a bust, it hasn’t been our first thing to not go as well as we have hoped, I’m sure it won’t be our last. But then again, my glass half full self tells me we never would have known for sure without giving it a try.