Shortly before the camp season ended, on the morning of Camp Ramah’s Festivale, R turned to me and said, “Mommy, last summer I needed Rachel to carry me but this year, I am ready to dance on my own.”
I couldn’t believe it. Was this the same boy who just the week before refused to have his name called out in a “hello” song at a one-year old’s birthday party?
There is nothing more amazing than watching our children grow, mature, and develop. As R’s mom, I am continually in awe of this unique person I helped create. In the 4 years since R was first diagnosed on the autistic spectrum, he has worked harder than many of his peers to do the things that most consider “normal” for young boys. On difficult days, it is hard to see past his social delays and sensory issues. But those days are growing fewer in number.
People talk about it taking a village to raise a child, and it is true. But that does not mean that every village is able to recognize and facilitate each child’s strengths and weaknesses, and accept them as individuals.
Not every camp is a good fit for every child. For R, a good fit for camp comes down to more than his likes and dislikes relating to activities. It comes down to willingness to work with our family and external resources to facilitate R’s inclusion, and to maintain an open and honest line of communication. It comes down to having strong leaders and camp staff who recognize the value in inclusion without being scared of the effort and planning it takes to get there. It comes down to training and non-traditional resources.
This was R’s second summer at Camp Ramah Nyack, and it will not be the last. Thanks to the leadership of the camp directors and roshei edah (division heads), the dedication of R’s counselors, the staff’s willingness to learn new techniques and use resources provided by Matan, each camp day was magical for R. Just like last summer, R felt confident, comfortable and safe, paving the way for him to try new experiences.
So what happened at Festivale? R did what everyone else did – he danced on his own – and in the front row, no less. And who shared in my excitement at seeing R up there? His counselor from last summer, of course.