Editor’s Note: This post is the first of four parts. The second will run tomorrow and will reveal the author’s thoughts about specialized and inclusive camps as she anticipates her son’s summer.
With spring on the wing, many families are eagerly awaiting the expansive, sunshine-filled days of summer. But those of us parenting children with special needs often see the school-free summer as an annual albatross.
Like many kids with Asperger’s, our son Ben thrives in a structured environment. School has caused him tremendous anxiety and challenges, but he much prefers school days to weekends and vacations. Our answer? Summer camp.
Plus, I had loved Jewish camp when I was young and for years anticipated the day when I would introduce it to my children. One of the perks of being a rabbi is the opportunity to serve as rabbinic faculty at camp and keep reveling in tefillah, or prayer, out in God’s Creation; nightly friendship circles and Shabbat at camp. My love of camp made it seem even more like the perfect solution to the conundrum of Ben’s summer.
He slept with us in faculty housing and was assigned to a cabin for a full day of programming. The camp assured me that they had experience with kids like Ben and would be were able to integrate him into the general camp population. It was a disaster.
We tried again the following summer with Ben in a cabin full-time. And because I was so firmly committed to my Jewish camp-fantasy, there was even a third attempt. But Ben’s His particular challenges made it impossible for him to integrate into a general camp population. While that is not the case for all kids on the spectrum, it is Ben’s reality. I had to accept that the Jewish camp experience would not be an option for Ben.
And then we discovered a place that turned out to be the right place: NJY Round Lake Camp. Round Lake Camp describes itself as “a unique place for children with learning differences and social communication disorders.” Alongside the activities one would expect to find at a summer camp, Round Lake incorporates social skills training into every aspect of camp life, providing occupational/speech therapy, adaptive physical education and mental health counseling. It was clear to us from the initial Skype interview with the camp director that Round Lake really gets these kids and their needs.
Our best example is camp arrival. The camp collected Ben’s luggage from our home about a week prior to the start of camp. His belongings were unpacked so that his bunk already had a sense of familiarity. It made the transition, something with which Ben and others like him often struggle, so much easier. The daily pictures of Ben engaging in activities that seemed impossible confirmed that Round Lake was able to provide what Ben needed from a camp.
It was with a great deal of excitement that we registered Ben for another summer at Round Lake during early-bird registration. But that excitement turned to trepidation when we learned that Round Lake was moving to one of its sister camps, and that Ben would be spending much of his day in mainstream camp activities and social settings.
Rabbi Rebecca Einstein Schorr is a CLAL Rabbis Without Borders Fellow whose work appears regularly on the Rabbis Without Borders blog and Kveller.com as well as a variety of other online sites. Writing at This Messy Life (www.rebeccaeinsteinschorr.com), Rebecca finds meaning in the sacred and not-yet-sacred intersections of daily life. Follow her on Twitter @rebeccaschorr.