I will begin sharing the occasional personal experience as a way to connect and remind my readers that there are ALWAYS real-life challenges behind those curated social media profiles. I hope you find them insightful and inspiring.
You may or may not have figured out by now that the oldest of my four boys is considered “neuro-atypical.” A word not in my vocabulary the first three decades of life, and one that I never expected to have to look up. Non-clinical definition: he has a hearty dose of ADHD. And is at a point on the autism spectrum where he can have just long enough of a chat with peers to APPEAR “typical”. Until he dominates the conversation with things no one wants to hear about, or gets rude because he doesn’t know what to say next. I never would have imagined that there was a summer camp for socially challenged kids.
When I came across Camp Sequoia, whose focus is helping high functioning ADHD young men through communication challenges to help ensure their “social skills success”, my prayers were answered. We were interviewed, approved, referenced and paid up within just a few days. And committed to sending my baby off for SIX weeks. Gulp.
High Hopes for Deeper Connection
I couldn’t wait to get my upgraded version of William, arriving home with a camp journal full of new friends and their contact info. Stories through hysterical laughter about his new BFF and all the trouble they got into. Would I be making plans for him to spend time cross country for a mid-year visit with one of these new besties? I was SO excited for him, and the fact that there even WAS a summer camp for socially challenged kids.
When the photos started arriving via email, I couldn’t spot William among the crowds of boys. When I did find him in a photo, I would find him alone. He appeared to be having a great time, but rarely seen with another child. Then came the weekly phone calls from the head counselor, delivering those dreaded words that I’ve heard SO MANY TIMES: “We wanted to talk, because William is not making the progress we would have liked by this point…”.
It’s the cycle that kills me. Those ups and downs. Of huge hopes, quickly extinguished by reality.
A Change in Mindset
After several weeks of similar phone calls, my expectations were tempered. The incredibly dedicated staff was doing everything possible to help integrate him into the groups. Things like customized “Do’s and Don’ts” lists, and role playing before meeting new campers (both things I will continue to do with him at home). What comes so incredibly naturally for (my) other boys is so foreign to William. Interpreting body language. Reading social cues. Knowing when the joke is over. Once again, I was reminded of just how much more work we have to do. And how there is NO 6-week program that will take the place of the life-long journey we have before us.
So, how many names were in his address book? NOT ONE. Did he have any desire to keep in touch with anyone? NOT IN THE LEAST. Did we see a social change? YES. Did he enjoy himself? ABSOLUTELY, as evident from his huge smile and first words… “Mom, I had SO. MUCH. FUN.” This is, in the end, all that matters to me, and we have every intention of having even more fun at Camp Sequoia next year.
It’s been 12 years and I still find myself having unrealistic expectations. Or hanging my heart on visions of normalcy. But it’s my William who continually teaches the most important lessons in life. Constantly reminding me that “typical”, and “normal” are nothing but blurred lines. And that the tiniest step in the right direction, after SO much hard work, creates more happiness than any simple leap could ever.