Why Summer Camp is Not an Option for My Kid

Coach with group of childrenAs a kid I dreamed of going away to summer camp. I’d see the commercials with the kids running out to the school bus (a happy face was painted on it), waving goodbye to their parents. Then there’d be a montage of the kids swimming, horseback riding, making crafts, playing sports or kayaking – creating childhood memories I knew I would never have.

There was no way my mother would send me away for even a day. Aside from it being too expensive, my mother was extremely protective and she wasn’t going to hand me over to some stranger. It was rare when she let me go visit friends or play outside. If I didn’t go out with my mother, father or family member- I just didn’t go out.

My son, Norrin, is seven years old; my husband and I work outside the home. Summer camp is ideal for many kids of working parents. Unfortunately, it’s not even an option for us.

Like all public school kids in New York City, Norrin will be done with school in another two weeks. But Norrin has autism and his IEP requires that he has an extended school year. Instead of having two months off to rest and relax, Norrin will be back at school by the second week of July until mid August.

I know that we’re lucky. Many kids with autism don’t have an extended school year. And Norrin’s school is pretty amazing. It was well worth the fight to get him there. There’s a pool and big green lawn, a play ground and picnic area. But it’s still school. Norrin will still have the required occupational and speech therapy sessions as mandated on his IEP. Norrin is still expected to do school work so that he doesn’t regress and lose the skills he learned throughout the year.

And during the last few weeks of August, after the extended school year is over, Norrin will be shuttled between babysitters, my mother, and my office day care. His routine will be completely off. During those last few weeks, Norrin will still work with therapists that I pay for privately.

If Norrin was a typical kid, I’d send him off to summer camp. Nothing makes me happier than giving my son the things I didn’t have growing up. But summer camps for ‘typical’ kids aren’t able to handle a kid like mine – even with accommodations. And the few summer camps for kids with autism require applications and approvals and waiting lists too long to even bother. Others are just way above what we can afford and only half day programs.

If I’m going to be completely honest—I am not ready to send Norrin to a summer camp.  He isn’t the kind of kid that can tell me about his day when I ask, if someone hurts him or other kids make fun of him. That’s one of the scariest things about being a special needs mom. There are too many pieces missing from his day and it takes a lot for me to fill in the blanks.

Growing up, my mom didn’t have to put her trust in strangers to take care of her children. She was a stay at home mom and during the summer months, she was our camp counselor. I don’t have that option, I have to work. I already have to put so much trust into teachers, therapists, bus drivers and matrons. I’m not ready to introduce more people into our lives.

With or without summer camp, I’m determined for Norrin to have fun. He works so hard all year long, he deserves it. We’ll go to the zoo, the aquarium, the pool, the park and even the beach. We have a few weekend getaways planned. Most importantly – we’ll use the time we have, to just be a family and to make our own special memories.

How do your kids spend their summer vacation? 

Read more of Lisa’s writing at AutismWonderland.

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image via: iStock photo

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