Asher is a long time camper who has autism. What is noticeable about Asher is that he wanders and very rarely hangs out with the other kids in his group. He always seems happy enough with his one to one counselor and a bit of redirection. His experience is “inclusive enough.” Then, Bill enters the picture; Bill totally gets Asher which is evident by how Asher loves to tell Bill jokes. It is even clearer one afternoon when Asher is again wandering. His group is playing basketball and he is not into it. His preferred activity? Cloud watching. He wandered just a little way away and found a grassy, soft spot to lay down and stare up at the sky.
His one to one counselor, Bill, could have told Asher to get up and to come play, he could have told Asher that it is time for basketball but instead he lay on the ground next to Asher and asked him what he saw. It seemed pretty uneventful for Asher; he was just being Asher, but the other campers and counselors noticed and one by one they lay on the ground as well and some pretty cool observations were made and chatted about. All of sudden Asher was a part of something that he created and that others could be included.
Kudos to Bill for embracing this moment as this was the beginning of something significant for Asher and for the others as the boys now had common ground, a connection, a place to begin a friendship. Asher was no longer the boy who didn’t stay with the group; he was now the boy who saw dinosaurs and monster trucks in the clouds and when you are an 11 year old boy that is pretty darn cool.
This is one of our stories that encapsulate the meaning of inclusive programming at camp. While we have support and adaptions at the ready it really is the individual person and his or her approach to a child or a group of children that brings the nature of inclusion alive. Bill chose to create an environment of inclusion. He chose the activity that brought everyone in. It was not just about Asher. It was about supporting the group about bringing them together.
Yes, at camp we are known for our support and inclusion of people who have disabilities or specific diagnosis like Asher and it is quite a beautiful thing however we don’t consider that the full story. Our inclusive core value is about everyone. It is about the sense of belonging felt at camp. It is about allowing people to show up and be themselves and yes, sometimes, people need support. The truth is we all need support sometimes. Camp embraces this idea and provides an environment of inclusiveness whether a person has a disability or not. It is one of the core values that make camp, camp.
Asher still comes to camp; he is 14 now. He has become kinda known for his quirky sense of humor. He makes people laugh and not just his one to one counselor. He stays with his group a bit more these days, often on the edge of the activity but camp is home to him. He knows he is welcome and he can be himself.
Angi K Sullivan
CYO Camp Co-Director