special needs child to camp

Rainman Goes To Camp: What it’s like to send your special needs child to camp

Sending a typical child to camp can be daunting, but it is especially so to send your special needs child to camp. Nine year old daughter Blair attended summer camp last week. At family day, we celebrated Blair’s finely honed skills of gluing stuff to wood and ate fried chicken. I can’t remember the last time I had actual fried chicken. I confess I spent most of my effort eating the crunchy bits off the chicken, so I technically just ate fried chicken skin. Yum. At the end of the feast, the families and their campers disbanded. Only Devlin was nowhere to be found. Twenty minutes later and fifteen volunteers searching and calling his name, Devlin turned up on one of the hiking trails, having followed another family into the wooded area. I take these incidents in stride, but I’d be lying if I didn’t also admit it takes a few weeks off my life each time he wanders off. With this backdrop, I delivered Devlin this morning to attend a five-day sleepover camp for kids on the spectrum. I consulted IPhone Siri to direct me to the designated drop-off. Stupid bitch did not know where I was going and I got lost on the way there.  I love a good stress-buzz first thing in the morning. It’s like waking up in a fit at the exact time you’re supposed to be someplace. I have concluded that it is much worse to think you know where you’re going than to be totally lost. If you’re lost, you don’t have hang-ups about where you think you are. If you think you know where you are but you don’t really know, you tend to take routes that seem correct, but never are. Better to be lost. I thought I knew where I was going this morning.

All I could think of when I was speeding around this morning was what if I’m late and they won’t take him? It’s been a long summer. We’ve had a lot of togetherness. I have nearly reached my capacity to discuss what different kinds of chex mix there are, which flavor is my favorite, what the bags look like, where we can get them, when we can get them, how we can get them, what the different flavors taste like.  There are actually 19 different flavor varieties. I’ve discussed each and every one of them in numbing detail with Devlin, who is fixated and entranced by chex mix. When I finally arrived (on time), there was a line out the door of parents trying to corral their autistic offspring. It’s cruel and humorous to make special needs kids wait in lines (a/k/a organized chaos). Devlin rolled over my sandal-clad toes five times with his suitcase. No parent thought twice about a random, unfamiliar child grabbing their purse, getting into their personal space or asking inane questions. It’s like an impromptu smash mob event where parents instinctively block doorways from wandering children, don’t think twice about redirecting a rogue child who is flapping their arms and doesn’t flinch at the sound of kids screeching or toppling over a piano. Devlin, who woke up at 6:00 and was practically dressed and waiting at the car at 6:15 a.m., showed his excitement by refusing to let me take his picture.

You don’t have typical fears with an a-typical child leaving for camp for five days. First, you feel relief and gratitude that someone else is going to assume complete responsibility for your child. Guiltily, you are off the hook for consecutive days in a row, and it is a type of freedom that exceeds all expectations. Each parent in that room today checking in their special needs child had their own unique fear. One feared her child wouldn’t eat the food. Any of it. Another worried their child would refuse to sleep in an unfamiliar bed. Refuse, as in, can’t make him do it. Most of us handed over large bags of medicine for seizure control, allergies, ADHD, OCD, ODD. The list goes on. After a few rejuvenating days of not discussing the virtues of chex mix, I may even miss them.


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  1. bookwyrm217

    Bold Flavor. Ate an entire bag at the movies yesterday between The Wolverine and Pacific Rim.
    He’ll be fine. I promise. They seldom lose them and always try to return them to the correct parents.

  2. Kelly

    Please know your efforts don’t go unnoticed – I’m heading out to buy some Jalapeno Cheddar Chex Mix RIGHT NOW! (Who knew? Devlin did.) Please thank him for introducing me to this bit of deliciousness!

  3. amy

    I’m in the midst of the pain of sending Mia off today too. I bet not many parents sending their kids off to sleep-away camp have to act out a certain, special kind of seizure for the sweet 15 year old “aid” who is taking over all care for their child to make sure it’s noticed if it happens. With the unique joy that comes with handing off a high- needs kid for a week, comes a unique kind of terror. I’ll relax by happy hour.

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