Sleep Away Camp


August 5, 2013 by Marj Hatzell

*tap, tap, tap* Is this thing on? Hi, I’m DG and I’ve been ignoring my blog for three weeks now…

The only excuse I’ve got is, “Life. It happens, as it turns out.”

Anywho, yesterday we dropped Bug Boy off at camp for a week. He’s gone to day camps a plenty the past few years. This one is different because it’s his first stint ever at a sleep-away camp. As in, overnight, without us, in the woods, doing campy things like hiking, canoeing, fishing, archery, swimming and the like. He was very excited to go. We were very excited for him to go. But this isn’t any ordinary camp. We picked this one specifically because we had an ulterior motive.

It’s specifically for kids who need some help with social skills.

A few months ago, Bug Boy started noticing he was “different.” He started to notice that he dressed differently and wanted things that were more like other kids. He noticed he was doing things younger kids did and started distancing himself from the younger boys in our neighborhood. He started saying, “Hang out” instead of “play” with his friends. He practiced a “hang out” stance and came up with his own (seemingly arbitrary) list of things he would do when he “hung out” with these friends. And so on. And then he started having questions about his own neurology.

Now, we’ve always been COMPLETELY OPEN with Bug Boy. He knows everything about every diagnosis. We always felt he had nothing to hide and we’ve always kept open dialog. We’ve always stressed that his autism/OCD/ADHD wasn’t a big deal, it was just a part of who he is, like having red hair or an elbow. It was just a reason for things that he struggled with, like social skills, making friends, loud noises, tags in his clothes, etc, but NEVER an excuse for behavior. He’s been fine with that. But middle school is a cruel, cruel beast and we all know how alienating it can be to be “different” at that age. I know because I went through it. There were days I wanted to QUIT ALL THE THINGS and never leave the house. I hated being “a spaz” and “being a klutz” and “crying all the time” and “washing my hands and feet too much.” I didn’t want to be different. And yet I was. And back then? Well, ain’t nobody got time for that! I was pretty much told to suck it up. The thing is when you don’t deal with that stuff as a kid? It just compounds as an adult. Which means you have to deal with it yourself. It takes years away from your life.

We’re dealing with it now with Bug Boy. He wants to QUIT ALL THE THINGS and hide in the house and never invite anyone over and I have to persuade him to go to the pool to hang out with his BEST BUDDIES, the ones he talks about all the time. See, we’re lucky in that there’s a group of “future engineers” that go to his school in his particular grade. There are probably ten or twelve of them and they’re all into the same things but they often struggle socially so all of their parents (myself included) have difficulty encouraging them to hang out together, even though that’s what they really want to do. Or they hang out and play video games the whole time. Which isn’t a bad thing, necessarily. It’s just…well, there isn’t much, um, socialization. It’s overwhelming for them sometimes.

So. This camp.

Back in the spring, when we started exploring what to do for the summer, I came across this camp. I mentioned it to Bug Boy. His eyes lit up. He knew this wasn’t for “typical” kids. He knew there would be kids “like him”. And his exact words were, “I want to go to THIS camp. I want to go to a camp where I can meet more kids like me.” And so we chose this camp. At his request. Because he’ll have the support he needs to navigate camp and hopefully connect socially. I wish I signed him up for two weeks instead of one but since it is his FIRST SLEEP AWAY CAMP EVER we went with one week. Who knows what next year will bring?

As we packed yesterday morning, he suddenly piped up, “Mom. I really, REALLY hope there’s someone there just like me.” It just about broke my heart. He’s feeling so different. It’s so hard when you are this age and feel like you stick out like a sore thumb. I know because I went through it, too. All the things your parents think make you special make you feel like you have a flashing sign on your forehead that says, “LOSER!” Like everyone is looking at you and whispering behind your back. Like you’re always going to have that awful pimple right at the end of your nose. I assured him that he was a unique, wonderful kid and he was going to meet someone that had many of the same interests but no one is EXACTLY like you. You just decide that you like things about people and want to hang out with them. And that there were CERTAINLY going to be more kids with autism/OCD/ADHD and the like that liked Pokemon or Star Wars or Minecraft. I’m not sure he bought it but he seemed relieved.

We arrived at the camp yesterday, helped him set up his bunk and then gave hugs and said good bye. As we turned to leave, a boy walked over and said, “Hi! I’m Lee. You must be Bug Boy. I heard you like Star Wars.”

And a choir of angels sang, and unicorns and butterflies flew around the room and I died from shock and when I came back to life again, they were smiling and chatting and, “ZOMG MINECRAFT? ME, TOO!!!”

I’m thinking he’s going to have a great week.

17 thoughts on “Sleep Away Camp

  1. HG says:

    Wonderful wonderful wonderful!

  2. Your posts are so funny, and heartfelt. The real heros in this country don’t get nearly enough credit and support. You are a hero DG, a mix of Red Sonja, Uhura, and Black Widow from Avengers 2. Maybe a little Catwoman (from the 60s.Batman, not the movies). You are always in my prayers. Taters.

  3. Debby says:

    I love your blog~as a mother of 5 children with aspergers, a wife to a husband who has aspergers, oh yes, as an asperger grown up woman{allegedly grown up although there is not always much evidence of that!} I can relate to quite a lot of your “stuff”. I wouldn’t change anyone in my family though as they all have a brilliant perspective on the world and their uniqueness is wonderful. Debby.x p.s. am I wrong to occasionally wonder what a so called normal life would be like!!

  4. jimreeve says:

    I hope your son has a great time. And I hope you don’t worry too much while he’s gone because if my son went away for a week, my wife and I wouldn’t sleep. In regards to your boy worrying about being different, it’s only for the now. In a few years being different is whats going to make him stand out.

    • We’re constantly reminding him that being different is GOOD and OK. And that we don’t LIKE being like everyone else. 🙂 I know it’s temporary. He’s proud of himself. I think he’s just going through the same phase everyone else goes through.

  5. Jill says:

    Big Boy sounds so much like my son. He will be starting Junior High in Sept and all these concerns are the same. Sounds like your son may be a year older – anyway, I so relate!

    This camp sounds great. Can you share how you found it, name etc? Private message if you can. I’d like to investigate for my son for future…


  6. Sarah Almond says:

    What a wonderful place! I’m so happy that you found it! 😀

  7. Barb Crozier says:

    Marj, I just love this post!

  8. Ari says:

    I’d love to know how sleep-a-way camp turned out.

    My son (Aspergers/ADHD) has made his best friends through day camp and this year he and his 2 best buds (also ASD +) all went to a 1-week sleep away camp sponsored by his day camp. Turned out to be more of an adventure than they planned since there was a tummy bug at the camp. But the kids did great, and I think we will be looking for a longer sleep-away camp next year.

  9. […] Bug Boy went to camp. A camp for kids who sometimes have a little difficulty navigating the social world. Not all of the kids were autistic but the camp had small groups, tons of support and was run like a “typical” camp in the sense that they had traditional activities and experiences just like a “typical” camp. He wanted THIS PARTICULAR CAMP because he wanted to go to a camp that specialized in kids just like him. He chose (HE CHOSE IT) over a “typical camp” because he wanted to be comfortable, to be able to be himself, without the pressure of fitting in. The day before camp, as we packed, Bug Boy nearly broke my heart when he said, “I’m really hoping I find someone just like me, mom.” And even though he has some very good friends here, he was feeling a bit isolated this summer. A bit like an alien. Ah, Puberty. Thanks for that. […]

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