Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Thanksgiving - Reflections Over Bread Crumbs

It has been quite a few months since I had written my last post.  After a time of introspection and just living the day to day, I have been feeling the urge to start writing again.  To backtrack, my last post was about the beginning of the summer and my son Jake's difficulty with adjusting to his summer program.  After trying out the program for about a month, we had decided that although it was a program for special needs, it did not suit the needs for our kiddo.  It did not provide enough structure for him, which he really needs.  Even though at the time I was incredibly frustrated by the situation, we got to the point where we just chalked it off to: well, at least we tried.  That experience taught me that just because a place has a good reputation and may look good on paper, it may not be the right place for every child.  It felt like we were desperately trying to fit a square peg into a round hole, and it was time to move on.  So we did.  We got through the rest of the summer.  

Camp ASCCA at Lake Martin, AL - an evening boat ride

Although it wasn't the experience that we were hoping for, there were however a couple of highlights for our family that summer.  We went to two special needs camps: Camp ASCCA (Alabama Special Camp for Children and Adults) in June and Camp Yofi at Ramah Darom in August.  Camp ASCCA was our second summer and Yofi was our first time.  ASCCA includes all special needs children and young adults and Yofi is a Jewish camp that holds a week long program especially for autism families.  We loved both camps, as they each offered different types of services and activities as well as very special counselors who put their heart and soul into our kids.   

Art activity
Easter Seals provided a free special week for military families!

Through the journey of putting ourselves out there by stepping outside our daily comfort zones of predictable routine-filled structure, with trying out special needs camps and providing fun new family experiences, we knew that we had found a home away from home at Yofi.  We had a lot in common with other families there and made some new friends.  Because there was respite provided for the parents, we basically got date nights with other parents every night.  There were creative social activities planned for parents after kids went to sleep.  The camp also set up special precautions to help our families during that week, and we felt like it surpassed our expectations.  One such precaution (or baby proofing, as we lightheartedly call it) was at the evening of the bonfire, the counselors stood shoulder length apart at the edge of the lake, so that kids couldn't make a run for the water.  Given that autistic kids are very attracted to water, we were very much appreciative of that.  Each autistic child was partnered with a friend (a personal counselor who took the child on group activities without parents and siblings and attended to his/her every need).  The siblings had their own designated group activities that parents would drop them off at.  Parents had their choices of assorted activities, and they could also choose to rest if they'd like.  This aspect of the camp made it feel like we were (dare I say) on a vacation on a resort and pretty much appealed to every aspect of family life with special needs.  We had never experienced this before.  

One of Jake's favorite activities at Yofi

There were of course family activities scheduled for us to do together as well.  One of my personal highlights were the yoga sessions at a pretty little spot by the lake.  I had one private session on a rainy afternoon and the sound of the drops gently splashing on the water was incredibly serene and dreamy.  The other session I did with Jake, where we did lots of interactive posses and movements, and I was delighted to see him get involved and be in motion and relaxed altogether.  A new friend was there with her twin boys and we enjoyed experiencing that session together.  

Jake's counselor carried activity cards on a key chain for Jake

Another cool thing that the camp did was set up the cafeteria to have the main sitting/eating area in the middle and two play rooms, one on each side for younger and older kids.  Counselors sat outside the room with an attendance board for checking in and out, so that all kids were accounted for at all times.  This enabled parents to complete their meals and continue shmoozing with other parents and counselors in a relaxed atmosphere.  This was something which we thought was absolutely brilliant.  I could go on and on singing praises here, but I think you get the picture.  It was a wonderful experience for our family.  Subsequently, our twins repeatedly asked if we could return the following summer and kept talking about our camp adventures for weeks after we returned home.

Every child at Yofi got some sort of plate award

So that was the rest of our summer - it ended on a very positive note.  Alex and I felt very encouraged and proud of our little family for getting out there, taking charge and making memories with our children.  We felt fortunate to find such types of summer programs for special needs families and we want to encourage other families that may be gun shy to take such a step.  A lot of it is hands on and exhausting, especially in the heat of summer with outdoor activities, but staying at home all summer and finding daily activities, can be just as difficult at times.  It's also a great way to get kids more adjusted to being away from home in a fun and safe environment.  Basically, we got hooked and look forward to coming back in future summers.   

In closure, what I'm thankful for this year is that we had paved a new path with little bread crumbs (mind the turkey stuffing analogy) for us to come back to and find.  They lead the way for us, inviting us to return, with each step forward, getting closer and closer to warm familiar surroundings and friendly faces.  And as we look back over our shoulders, the crumbs slowly fade and disappear.  We then intuitively throw out fresh new crumbs, paving a fresh new path for us to return to for the following year.  I guess I am mostly appreciative of taking a leap of faith, putting our good energy out there, and seeing what happens.

Happy Thanksgiving, 
and may your bread crumbs pave the way to a lovely holiday and happy home!