My daughter came home from day 3 of her week-long culinary camp to ask if she had to go the next day. I was stunned by her sheepish demeanor. She was elated at the idea of a solid 5 days of cooking and baking. I was grateful this didn’t involve my kitchen for once. When she asked I turned and looked down into her steel blue eyes, “Why? Are the kids not nice?”
With tears starting to form, she responded, “The counselors are mean to me.” I was gobsmacked. Isn’t it a camp counselor’s job to be nice, encouraging, and a friendly face your child looks forward to seeing every day?
This camp’s advertisement boasted that is was for all ages and abilities. I foolishly took that to mean they were an inclusive summer camp but I was so wrong.
Fortunately or unfortunately (depending on the day), my daughter’s autism presents as such that you might not notice her quirky personality and the social awkwardness that tends to go along with it right away. As one therapist put it when I lamented about how children and some adults tend to interact with her, “She is autistic enough to be annoying to others at times, but not autistic enough for people to believe that she is.” Yup. That about sums it up.
Even When You Try To Communicate Challenges They Still Can Be Missed
Whenever I sign her up for anything, be it a (self-proclaimed) inclusive summer camp or any kind of extracurricular activity, I go overboard to communicate the things staff should know about what my daughter does when she is overstimulated. I cite what they should look for as far as signs that she is not doing well in their environment. I diligently go over scenarios and actions they can take to make their interactions with her as positive as possible.
In fact, she is a joyful, lovely, sun-shiny person normally. It is rare that her behavior would be poor or that she would become difficult to manage. So when she tearfully told me that the counselors were rude to her and at times yelled at her to “shut up,” I didn’t know what else to do but hightail it to the lead counselor the next morning and find out what was up.
I Don’t Think Your Child Is Right For Our Inclusive Summer Camp
It was about as canned response as I have ever heard, “I don’t think your daughter is right for our program.” Well, what kinds of kids wouldn’t be right for a camp that advertises all ages and abilities? Where is the list of disabilities that you don’t service at your inclusive summer camp? You won’t get a response to that question by the way.
The lead counselor went on to describe in very verbose detail exactly what my daughter does when she is overstimulated; she sings. Singing had been the carnal sin my child committed because the noise of 20 something kids in a kitchen all trying to bake cookies was too much for my child’s brain to take in.
Her other crime at culinary camp? She talks too much. Yes, when she is overstimulated or in a new environment with people she doesn’t know she will blather on endlessly about random things. Another sign of her condition.
I tried to write all these things down on their form, especially in the ‘Tell Us About Your Child’ section. What I didn’t factor in was that what I wrote, everything that would have told them about her condition and some of its manifestations would never be read by anyone.
Once I explained to the young woman, who told me upon our meeting that she was going to school to be an educator, that my daughter wasn’t willfully misbehaving, she was trying to cope with her environment, she looked crestfallen and remorseful. Even so, lashing out at a child because they are singing and talking isn’t a good sign of a great future educator.
What it is a sign of is lack of training staff in the common things they may come across with a group of children there for inclusive summer camp like autism, ADHD, processing disorders; really anything that may be nuanced, and how to recognize the signs and accompanying challenges, especially how to deal with those issues successfully and positively.
Don’t Take An Inclusive Summer Camp At Their Word - Ask For More Information
Disabilities are not always obvious. That seems to be the biggest divide to cross these days. When a camp says they take children of all abilities, what do they really mean?
- Ask specifically what “all abilities” means to them
- What kinds of training in childhood disabilities have they had
- What is their experience with your child’s disability or challenge
- Find out who you can talk to get more information about staff training
- Get a commitment on what the refund policy is if your child is not comfortable at their camp
Lots of camps like to advertise an inclusive summer camp experience but they fail to understand how to tailor their programming for children who might have social or behavior challenges, or those children who suffer from sensory issues. Loud, chaotic camp environments are very difficult for children with autism, no matter how nice the staff is.
Getting The Right Information About Your Child To Summer Camp Staff Is Key
A little block on a standard form is not enough to properly convey what your child’s needs are and how to deal with them before they become an issue for all involved. Understanding how your child’s day/week is going and being able to offer support and suggestions in real-time is nearly impossible. Or is it?
eCare Vault is the first solution of its kind to provide parents with the capabilities of sharing as much information about their child’s needs with camp staff as they think is needed and be able to collaborate with camp staff instantly. Camp Counselor/Parent communication has never been so easy with eCare Vault’s app being used on any handheld device.
Where training may fail camp staff in certain situations, you can be there to offer guidance. Make the most of your child’s inclusive summer camp experience. Improve outcomes with eCare Vault.