Friday, September 23, 2011

Camp Camp

We think it’s time for my son Alex (13, PDD-NOS) to spend more time away from his parents because A) he seems to want, as best as we can tell, to spend more time away from his parents; and B) We want him to spend more time away from his parents.

Other efforts aside, we recently again sent Alex away to a sweet week of overnight summer camp.

“Camp? Camp?” he started saying days ago. “Camp?” he said as we took him to visit his younger, typically developing Ned at the overnight camp where Ned spent nearly a month this summer. We took Alex up there and he ran around the plywood hallways and through the screen doors; he rooted under Ned’s bunk for the green backpack that Alex himself has always taken to camp. He seemed to want to bring it home. “Camp? Piano?” Yes, this camp of Ned’s had a piano, which Alex glimpsed last year.

Ned went to camp several days before Alex. “Time to get Ned,” Alex kept saying.
This was Alex’s fifth year at his overnight camp, single weeks we’ve come to treasure for the unbroken sleep and the silent lack of Elmo. And all signs were positive at Alex’s bus pick-up. He sat and waited with my wife Jill while I stood in the endless line waiting to pass a ridiculously young person in a green T shirt his Baggie of respiration medicine. He waited in line without bolting, he said “piano” as the counselor strapped on the ID bracelet. “Do you have a piano at camp?” I asked her.
“We do!” she said.

He said good-bye to Jill; he waited for me at the bus door. “Daddy. Camp,” he said, kissing my arm. Then he vanished inside.

“Camp? Daddy? Mommy?” he said during his first phone call with us. It was much like a real phone talk. “How are you, Alex? Are you having a good time?” Hard to know if he was or he wasn’t, but he sounded reasonably stable. (Hard to know whose voice it was, too. “Do you think that was really Alex?” Jill asked after we’d hung up. “Do you think that was really Alex, Jeff? Why are you suddenly so quiet?”) A few nights later we call to speak to the young woman who’s shadowing him, his counsellor (We do!).

“He’s having a pretty good time,” she says. “We’ve taken walks down to the lake. He’s ridden horses, and today he said ‘Horse! Horse!’ He likes to run, but I keep after him. He’s turned on every light switch in the camp. I may have him call you in a few days,” she adds. “He’s been saying, ‘Daddy? Mommy? Bus...”
He’ll see that bus soon, and when he returns we’ll hear the Elmo and wake in the middle of the night or at dawn, and again we’ll fight the pressure to make any decision that sends him away for much, much longer. At least he did get to camp for a while, and for a special-needs kid -- and boy, especially for his family -- that's a diversion that I hope the budget cuts never take away.

Jeff Stimpson
Writer and speaker to educators and professionals
Twitter Name: Jeffslife
"Alex: The Fathering of a Preemie" (on Amazon and at and "Alex the Boy: Episodes From A Family's Life With Autism" (available at and on Amazon)

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