Thursday, August 19, 2010

Happy Camper

Jackson attended three different sessions of (half-day) summer camps this year, with the last one ending today. I was pretty nervous sending him off to camp, though not because of the usual parent-child separation issues. His Asperger's definitely throws a curveball at any drop-off scenario, so we had a lot of questions and wrote a lot of notes/ideas on the health and general info forms at the outset.

All in all, the summer camp programs he attended get a big, fat, shiny A+ from our family! We were thrilled with how everything went and Jackson just had a lot of fun.
The first session was at a local nature center run by a county parks program. It took me awhile to pick my jaw up from the floor when they told me that they can bring in a paraprofessional to assist my special needs child throughout the camp at no extra cost. WOW. We signed on for this and were so, so happy with how it worked.
He attended two separate sessions at the nature center and both of the paraprofessionals were experienced with Asperger's, worked with small kids and and had a general (and obvious) love of nature which made it super easy for them to help Jackson at nature camp. This rocked. I drove away from drop-off each day with a huge grin on my face due to these people. The camp staff were excellent and the interns/volunteers were so, so cool too. But knowing that there was an extra person there to make sure that my kid 1.) understood the teacher's directions, 2.) didn't miss social cues from the other kids, 3.) stayed with the group instead of wandering off in the woods (he's a born hiker...) and 4.) didn't go into sensory overload without someone there to help him fix it was AWESOME.
The other camp he attended was a theater camp. The developmental pediatrician we saw back in the spring during our diagnosis phase recommended that Jackson try out a theater class since he loves to pretend that he's a different character each day. (This is one way that he deals with overwhelming social stuff--it's sometimes easier to be something else!) We heard about this awesome local theater offering camps for young ages from a friend and it didn't disappoint. (Well, it did, kind of, with logistical issues, but the programming was fantastic!)
The theater camp had a 10-minute performance at the end of the camp each day for the parents to attend. I was pretty sure that Jackson would not want to participate in these shows, but honestly, he surprised me. He listened to his teachers, he did the group movements, and generally was a part of the cast. There were a few times that he got overwhelmed with the sound in the room (he has superhuman ears), but instead of having a meltdown (very typical for kids with Asperger's/ASD), he withdrew to the back of the room and put his hands over his ears. Jackson has amazing coping power, so I'm really proud of him for how he handled this. But we're working on ways that he can put some of his sensitivities aside so he can feel able to join the group.
There were a couple of misunderstandings during the camps, like when Jackson wasn't participating in circle time at the nature center but was instead rolling around on the floor and starting to distract the other kids. The paraprofessional told me that she tried to get him to join (or at least stop rolling) but he wouldn't. He wasn't being loud, just not doing what he was supposed to be doing. Later that night, he told me that he was being a rolie polie bug by rolling around on the floor. I asked him if he told his teacher that. "Um, no," he replied. "Do you know that it's not okay to do that during circle time, Jackson? You can be a rolie polie bug and show your teachers and friends at a different time but not during circle time." He said "Oh, I guess that makes sense. I'll have to tell my teacher what I was doing when I go back."
So, lots of learning took place during summer camp this year, to be sure.
At the beginning of the summer, I still wasn't sure that my son would be able to handle summer camp, let alone a new year of preschool in a new place with new everything (including an IEP from the school system). But after a few sessions in these super cool places this summer, I know Jackson will succeed at school. He has a long way to go socially still, but we're on the right track. He is, quite simply, growing up. Some of the really, really difficult things we've had to deal with with him are fading a bit because he's growing up and finally taking in the explanations of why we have to do things certain ways. There's a really intricate locking system to get into Jackson's mind and I feel like we made another "click" or two towards success this summer.
Regardless of the difficulties that being an Aspie present for my son, he is still one happy camper. (Yes, he wore his cape to summer camp.) :)


Eden said...

Looks like a wonderful summer of growth for you both! I love the rollie pollie bug story. Amazing what goes on in his imaginative little brain! Glad the camps went well.

Heide said...

Hooray for Jackson! I'm extremely nervous for Ashley and the upcoming school year. She's going into 4th grade and quite frankly, her school doesn't provide the best of environments for children with Aspberger's. I'm talking to her dad about seeking a out of boundaries request to bring her to the school I work. Loved the Wild Things performance!

Lisa said...

And isn't Jackson just Max anyway? So how perfect! And how brilliant he is! And how awesome for you to realize it!