I’d like to use one of my lifelines

Sometimes just the sight of your own child can take you over the rainbow. We had scheduled another whirlwind visiting day weekend. We flew up to NYC on Friday and got to Bryan’s camp around 2. When they went to get him and this tall, slim, teenager appeared saying “I can see your phone” I was all tears and smiles. The sensory experience of your own kid is exhilarating. His smell, the feel of his hair, his voice… As predicted, he asked me to sit in the back of the car with him and we drove to our hotel, about an hour away from camp. We dropped our stuff at the hotel, same place as last year, a terrific Inn halfway between the boys camps. For us, it was a great retreat, nice, clean place, great adjacent restaurant and bar. They have live music on the weekends and the food is terrific. Camelot Inn in Clarks Summit, PA. For Bryan, anything familiar minimizes anxiety, and well, clearly that helps us too. We went to the movies, IMAX theater, to see Pacific Rim; Bryan’s choice. Let’s shatter some nice autism stereotypes here. The screen was huge and bright with sick special effects and about as loud as anyone could tolerate. Stereotype one: Kids with autism cannot tolerate loud noises or bright lights. Yep, not an issue for Bryan. He really does not have sensitivity to sound, light or texture. Yay. We took him shopping to buy candy, books, and what I like to call crap to bring to visiting day. We had “demands” from Jason but Bryan only wanted a few things, he does not care at all about stuff or things. Stereotype two: Kids with autism are cold and are not interested in socializing. Bryan could not get to my ipad quick enough. So what did he want to look at? Not games! Two things interested him. The first was facebook so he could look at photos of his teacher and our family and friends. He looked at a photo of his teacher that was taken the day of his Bar Mitzvah and he said to me “Ms. Wilton looks so pretty for my Bar Mitzvah”. I smiled and gave him a huge kiss. Then he went to Vimeo to watch his Bar Mitzvah. So funny!! We ate dinner outside listening to this great band play Dead songs and we danced. If that isn’t socializing, what is?
He had anxiety when he woke up and puked. He then managed to pull it together until about lunchtime. This is huge progress from last year where he could not relax for five minutes the entire day. We got to Jason’s camp around 9:15 and had a tearful yet joyous reunion. Jason always cries the most when he sees Bryan. Their connection is deep and great to witness. We walked Jason to his bunk and I kvelled as I saw people greeting him with warmth and affection. He had a new found confidence, a spring in his step that comes from social acceptance. I had this great feeling as the day unfolded of affirmation that sleepaway camp is the right move for these kids. They each are getting things from their experiences they cannot get at home and they are maturing and developing in their own ways. As a parent, the validation of your decision making is empowering.
On the drive back Bryan was virtually silent. A few times he asked about pickup from camp; we had gone over this several times earlier in the day, but not the 70,000 times we typically need to go through in years past. Stereotype three: Kids with autism cannot control themselves. Bryan was inside his head, keeping his emotions in check and facing the challenge ahead. I wanted to talk to him and ask him things but I was also enjoying the quietness of him. It is so ironic that although I love to hear him talk and love to have any snippets of conversation but his silence was the thing that I appreciated from him on the ride back. Gradual changes, gradual developments, progress. We got back to Bryan’s camp at the tail end of their visiting day. We took Bryan up to his room and met his bunkmates. He is not really in a bunk, more of a dorm room and it’s him, two other boys and a counselor. The other boys greeted us along with some counselors. Bryan was teary but held it together. I thanked the counselors for all they do for him and one sweet young female counselor said to me “we love our jobs”. My heart almost exploded. We love our boy, but when someone else can appreciate him for who he is, and wants to spend time with him, we are overjoyed and grateful. As my friend Lori said, “enjoy visiting day, as you know it’s the best.”

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