Guest Author - Bonnie Sayers
This is the seventh and eighth year of attending the summer autism camp for both my sons who are now twelve and thirteen. They are both in the same classes as they had last year, but Nicholas has a different set up with combined classes and teacher in one room. He is happy that many of the same kids are there from last year and he has picked up those friendships again.
The teacher is one year older than the oldest students at age 17 with Nicholas concerned about this. Also the three leaders in the class are all female with the bulk of campers being males and much larger and bigger than the girls. There are some campers worried about the girls safety, which causes anxiety in these kids. I am not sure if they are teaching the kids how to deal with their feelings since many are either scared of the bigger/older kids or do not like them since they are loud and different. Nicholas would use the word strange. It seems many of the younger kids are expressing how they do not like these kids and just told not to say these things. Nicholas is able to release his frustrations in the car and vent on the way home. I told him I prefer him to tell me these things instead of with the class and adding to that negativity. They should be incorporating social skills into their daily program.
There have been disappointments this year at camp. First it started with a field trip early on to go play miniature golf. The class goes in cars with teachers, campers and assistants. It turned out that the directions they printed out from mapquest were not correct and they got lost. There was no communication to the families to let them know this happened. I am not sure if those who have nonverbal kids even know they never made it to the field trip. I find this lacking in professionalism from all parties. Nicholas also told me that those in the car he was in went to Blockbuster, but it was a secret. I do not appreciate anyone of authority telling my son to keep a secret like this.
Each class does cooking at least two times per week. The day that Nicholas's class went to an outdoor pool for swimming they made Nachos. I think that was poor planning to have that type of food before the kids were to go swimming. Luckily Nicholas does not like Nachos and did not have any. He had his turkey sandwich and apple slices.
Another field trip for Nick's class was bowling. Like the miniature golf this was on his mind for days and the only thing he talked about. The trips were on Mondays and Tuesdays, which meant they were discussed on weekends. The kids did not get to play a full game due to the time it took to get shoes and balls for everyone. Nicholas said he got to do three throws and they had to come back to follow the schedule.
This year a printed schedule for each class was given to the parent at the Orientation day. I highlighted the days for field trips for both boys since the new rule was to wear a camp tshirt on those days or the camper would not attend the trip. I saw kids showing up on these days with no shirt and not sure what the outcome was. My kids wore shirts on days the calendar said they were going somewhere and learned those days that it was a typo. Again there wax no communication to the families that these days were not correct on the calendar. It showed Nicholas going swimming two days and Matthew going to Blockbuster on a day they did not go.
It was not posted anywhere in Matthew's class what they would be cooking that day. I had to ask each time what they were making and upon picking him up inquire as to whether he assisted and if he tried anything new to eat. There was nothing posted on the boards or papers sent to parents letting them know updates on their kids. If you remembered to ask you could try to get this information from them.
We have had issues with field trips in the past at school and last year there was a crisis at camp that I shared about in tips for a better camp experience.
Nicholas was not really excited about going to the beach at Santa Monica. I asked if they would be visiting the pier since we did that after he finished his first year of California Virtual Academy before Matthew graduated from his Elementary School. I wanted Nicholas to experience the beach, not knowing his class would be doing it this year at camp. For the past two years he has gone to Soak City at Knott's Berry Farm. We figured he would do that again this year. Matthew's class went instead with a younger class, but I kept them home that day since it was not an appriopriate place for Matthew to visit. Nicholas gave me feedback on the previous outings and we checked the site to see if there was anything of interest for Matt. We took the safe route and opted out.
I asked questions about the beach visit and gave feedback on how Nick does not know how to swim. I inquired to what they would be doing with the feedback not being very clear. I showed Nick how to apply sunscreen to his arms and legs and face. The older camp class has gone to the beach before, but the adults hd not since they were new to the older class.
When we got home it was clear that Nicholas was very sunburned and in pain. I was shocked when I saw his back and learned he took his shirt. The temperature that day at Santa Monica was in the low 70s. We never discussed taking off his shirt. I did not think Nicholas would go in the water, but he did. If the day had been structured and explained in detail to parents or maybe even a paper of what their itinerary was that could have prepared families for the day.
I learned late the next day that they left an hour later than planned. This was never told to parents. It seems they were there for two hours, yet no adult explained to my son that he should re-apply the sunscreen after being in the water. I asked about adults near him while in the water and could not get direct information from Nicholas. He said he went under the water and swallowed some and got scared and never went back in.
We did not go to camp the next day as Nicholas could barely move and needed lots of Aloe Vera Gel and stayed in his pajamas the whole day. He returned the last two days of the week, where we learned his friend at camp had severe sunburn as well. When that camper returned the following week he informed Nicholas that he went to the Doctor and had second degree burns. So much for adult supervision for the two hours they were at the beach. I am just glad that Nicholas was not as severe, although I had considered taking him to the Doctor.
In early June we both read news stories on secondary drowning and learned about swallowing water. Nicholas remembered this and that is why he did not return to the water. He told me that they did a session of safety at the beach before they left that covered lifeguards and not talking to strangers. It would have been beneficial if something was typed up and brought home for parents to reinforce this the night before the trip.
Both classes took trips to Round Table Pizza on different days. The day Nicholas went there was an earthquake at the time they were preparing to leave. Nicholas had three pieces of pepperoni pizza and was happy they went. The only issue I have with this lunch trip is that the adults made sure the campers knew they could not have soda and to drink water. Meanwhile these girls who are the leaders all had Cola drinks with the kids even making note of it. I find this practice of telling them they cannot have something, and then to turn around and order it for the adults to be rude and not professional. Soda is not even in our household with the only time Nicholas has had it being at the Elementary School when parents brought it in with birthday cake. Luckily it was just orange soda, but Nicholas prefers punch or lemonade.
This coming week is the last one for Camp. Both classes are going different days to Mc Donald's. I will be asking Nicholas if the adults have soda again and make the kids have water. That is just not right, everyone should have water or punch.
I learned just the other day that Matthew chooses when his diaper is changed and changes it himself. I had asked if I could take home the baby powder sine we were running out at home. I inquired if this was even used, which resulted in explaining to me the process of changing his diaper. He even did this last year, and here I am just getting this information.
On the plus side Nicholas has expanded his interests due to the enthusiasm of another camper with Super Mario games. We took the plunge and ordered Super Mario 64. His interests have been in animals and pokemon for many years, so it was nice to see him try something else. He has played with this game most of the weekend, between some animal shows on television.
I was surprised there were no handouts the day of the Earthquake explaining to parents and families the procedures at camp that are set forth and what they did with the kids that day. There are many oversights at camp lately that make me question my kids safety, treatment and fairness overall.
Beach Safety Tips for Kids
Pool helps autistic children thrive
Pool party risks
Camp helps autistic kids learn to surf
Earthquake Preparedness Guide for People with Disabilities
Educational Autism Tips for Families 71 page resourceful ebook for families entering the school system with a recent autism diagnosis. Find out what issues take place over the course of a school day and meet these challenges head on.