by Audra Kaplan, Psy.D.
First day of camp, Mike is quietly keeping to himself. He’s not sure of his new surroundings. Some strange lady is trying to help him put his clothes into the drawers that will hold his possessions and a few favorite objects from home for the next several days. Mike is excited about camp, but if he knew how to express it, he would say he is nervous. This is not only his first time at an overnight camp, this is his first time sleeping away from family. He did have that one sleep over at Aunt Sue’s, but she is still family.
A few months back, Mike’s dad suggested Camp Firefly to Mike and showed him some pictures on the Internet. The camp looked great-- swimming, nature, campfires, but Mike has Asperger’s and being with other kids can be tough for him. He was not sure. At school, Mike has a hard time making friends and has experienced more than his share of teasing. He knows that he says things differently than other kids, but the teasing still hurts. Would the kids at camp be nice to him, he wondered? Mike also knows that he is more sensitive than other kids. Will he be able to handle all of the noise and action of camp?
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Day three, Mike has gotten into the rhythm of camp. He likes that he can always check the visual schedule that the counselors’ carry attached to their backpacks. Knowing what is coming next helps him to feel calmer. Mike has gotten used to the bathroom routine and sharing a room with three other boys. At home, Mike needs a lot of reminders to brush his teeth, shower, and eat healthy foods. At camp, with the regular schedule, his counselor’s help and occasional prompts, and learning from his cabin mates, Mike has begun to increase his ability to do these things more independently. This was a challenge at first, but now Mike feels good that he has mastered something new, taking care of himself.
Day four of camp, Mike is swimming in the pool with friends. Mike enjoys swimming and playing pool basketball with his new friends. They play and even laugh as they take turns shooting and trying to knock out the basketballs from the hoop. At school, it has been hard for Mike to join others in casual games. This has been frustrating for him. At camp, the counselors have helped him to find ways to join in and play with friends. It feels comfortable here to take a chance and ask someone to play. Yesterday, Mike felt so safe at camp, that he even tried something he thought he would never do. He trusted his cabin mates to help guide him along a ropes course. How brave he felt and what a cool feeling to trust the other kids!
Afternoon, day five of camp, Mike is playing in a “Ga-Ga” game. This game has a funny name, but was quick to learn and really fun. Some of the other kids are competitive and count their wins. Mike doesn’t mind not winning. He is happy to play with the others. One of the girls, Maya, is playing too. Maya seems to have a hard time hitting the ball and keeps getting out. She happily plays round after round. Mike notices, another boy take his time to patiently explain the game to Maya, giving her suggestions for how to stay in the game. This other boy, who at other times has acted really impulsively, is attempting to protect Maya from being hit out of the game and encouraging her with supportive phrases. After playing a few games, some of the kids develop a plan to play the game so that Maya has the opportunity to win. When she wins, her face shines with pleasure and the other campers happily congratulate her. Mike enjoyed being a part of this caring group and felt proud.
Last night of camp, Mike enjoys sitting around the campfire. The Camp Director has just asked the kids to think of something that they are appreciative or happy about from camp, Mike wonders what he will say. He stands up and says “Thank you to my new friends. This was the first week that everyone was nice to me. No one teased me at camp.”
The names of the children in the story have been changed to protect their privacy, but all of the scenes have occurred at Camp Firefly.
Camp Firefly is a unique, life-enriching camp designed for children and teens aged 9-18 with Asperger's, social anxiety, autism and other social disorders.