As a kid, the thing I loved most about sleep away camp was that out there in the Canadian wilderness, surrounded by walls of graffiti from campers past and gimp bracelets and a tight-knit group of people I only saw two months out of the year, I could be a different version of myself.
While I had a very specific set of reasons for sending Benjamin to camp, that was not one of them. He would benefit from time away from home, I hoped, but Benjamin’s autism means he experiences the world very differently than I do (or did), so why would camp be an exception?
Because, as I realized at pick up the other day, whether it’s of the typical or special needs variety, camp is camp. And at camp even a kid like Benjamin can stretch out his identity a little bit.
"He was THE BEST camper," we were told by one of Benjamin’s bunk mates (all of whom, it should be noted, were far more social and verbal than he is and therefore amazing models for him).
"He really was!" agreed one of the many counselors who made sure Benjamin had the support he needed. Then he went on to tell us how Benjamin participated in mostly all of the activities, including bunk meetings (!), and that he loved swimming, singing camp songs, sprawling out on any sofa he could find, and spelling words.
Benjamin’s counselors (pictured above, minus a couple—talk about an awesome staff-to-camper ratio!), weren’t the only ones who seemed to really get and appreciate Benjamin. Walking around the grounds, I was thrilled by how many kids and staff came over to tell us how great our kid is, or just to say hi. Or “moustache,” which would prompt Benjamin to put his finger on his upper lip, as if it were, yes, a moustache.
Apparently the stick-on moustaches in the care package I sent were a huge hit. Benjamin tried them on, which his fellow campers thought was totally hilarious, and an inside joke was born.
There are plenty of people in the civilian world who understand just how funny (and smart and affectionate and generally awesome) Benjamin is. But in this special, isolated place full of bunk beds and average food and tremendous spirit, everyone seemed to understand.
So glad he got to have that experience—but also glad to have him back.