There are lots of great things about living in Minnesota, even if you don’t like winters that last forever. One of these things is The Autism Society of MN. AUSM has many great resources but the only we look forward to every year is Camp Hand in Hand. This is a camp just for kids on the spectrum. Each camper has their own counselor and stays in a cabin with 10-15 other campers. The cabin is divided up into lots of little rooms so there is some privacy. Campers come in on a Sunday afternoon and stay until the following Friday. Boo Bear attended for the first time last year and was eager to go again. While he was at camp he rode horses, played in the lake, rode the boat 3 times a day, did a ropes course and trust walk, attended music therapy (he loved playing with the shakers), cooked out and decided that maybe s’mores were okay after all. To keep helicopter parents from continually texting the counselors, parents can log into a private Facebook page. New pictures of the campers are installed multiple times a day. In every picture Mr. Boo Bear had an ear to ear grin. I missed him while he was away but I was happy knowing that he did not miss me!
It was during Boo’s camp week that Robert and I celebrated our 16th wedding anniversary and enjoyed our second ever vacation. Our first vacation was last year when Boo attended camp. We have since decided that vacations are a good thing and would like to have at least one a year. It occurred to me that this was really the first time in our marriage that Robert and I had time to relax, enjoy each others company and play. Boo Bear arrived on the scene when we had only been married 10 months. We knew we wanted kids and were thrilled but were also surprised at how quickly I got pregnant. Boo was born early and with complications. His first few months were rocky. Though we loved him dearly, he was not an easy baby. At about the time I conceived his sister, I was beginning to have worries about his development. His sister was born 2 years and 1 week after he was. He was diagnosed when she was only weeks old. Suddenly, I had a newborn and a newly diagnosed toddler who refused to sleep. From then on life was a blur. I was a wife, a mom of two very young children, a teacher, and was trying to learn as much about ASD as possible. I seemed to be constantly running with Boo from one therapy to another, towing his sister along with us. Thankfully, she was a very mellow baby and was more than happy just to hang out with mom while Boo attended all of his classes, therapies, doctors appointments, etc. When I did have any down time, usually between 3 and 5 am I was on the computer researching everything I could about Boo’s diagnosis. This went on for years. Gradually, things got easier. Boo started school. I hired some wonderful PCA’s to help us with him. He learned some skills and seemed happier. But, I never imagined that there would be a time when I would not have him right by my side.
Fast forward to his 8th grade IEP meeting. There was the usually table of professionals, including a woman named Wendy. She had taught spectrum kids for decades, had observed Boo and wanted to tell me about Camp Hand in Hand. She said it would be the perfect way for him to spend a week. I reminded her that he was a flight risk, non verbal and not night trained. She brushed this off and said that the camp was open to all kids on the spectrum, regardless of ability. I was intrigued and when registration for camp opened a few weeks later I signed him up. When the week came we drove Boo up north. As we pulled into the camp he got very excited. I was worried he would not want to leave me but he took his counselor’s hand and walked off without a backward glance. Quite clearly, he felt at home. So, Robert and I took our first vacation of our marriage. It was not a terribly active vacation as I was recovering from knee surgery, but we made the most of it. This year was even better. I had 2 fully functioning knees and happily tromped all over Duluth and spent time on the shores of my beloved Lake Superior. 5 days later we went to pick Boo Bear up. He seemed taller and older. He agreed to go home with us (I had come armed with a bag of Swedish Fish in case I needed to bribe him into the car) but seemed subdued. The next day he was a bit off. There were no horses to ride! There were no boats to take him zipping around the lake! The horror! Now that he has been home from camp for 3 days he is returning to his usual bouncy, zany self. He can go to the pool, attend Special Olympics, take long walks and play with the dogs. Life is not all bad. I am certain he will be delighted when school starts and there is more structure to his days.
When Boo was diagnosed many people gave me gloom and doom predictions about how ASD destroys marriages. The favorite number bandied about was 80%. I have since discovered that this claim is bogus. Despite what people may tell you, ASD does not cause divorce 80% of the time. Yes, it can put a strain on a marriage in multiple ways, but it is not a sure fire trip to divorce court. Even though it seems like our kids will be toddlers forever they eventually grow up. They learn some skills. They are ready to be away from their parents for short amounts of time. This is a great time for parents to reclaim their marriage. Robert and I had been tag teaming for so many years that we rarely had any alone time together. It was a lovely to discover that when we still loved each other, still liked hanging out together, and when the opportunity arose, still could have a lot of fun.
So, my reader, if you are in Minnesota, I urge you to learn about Camp Hand in Hand. Your child will have the best week of his summer there. If you are not in Minnesota, I urge you to see what resources are possible. It is time for you and your child to have a little fun.