A month later, Autism camp continues to give rise to memories and insights. Perhaps these memories remain so vivid and insistent because autism is such an ongoing part of my necessarily intertwined personal and professional life. This past weekend, almost a month to the day since camp ended, I facilitated a workshop on Movement Education and Autism, an achievement of sorts, since I've been beating the movement education drum for 15 years .... now, it seems, administrators, policy makers, therapists, specialists, EA's, PSW's, and other decision makers have "discovered" the value of meaningful movement experiences for kids, youth and adults with autism.
Perhaps they should come to camp and see first hand these kids, youth and young adults in action....
I want to tell you about two such young men.... Alexander and Billy. Take a quick glance up at the title, and read on.
Alexander is 17 this year. Tall, dark and handsome; incredible eyes, a long history of self injury and anxiety; mostly non verbal but an immensely effective communicator. Even though he is over 6 feet tall, he frolics and cavorts around like a 5 year old. He loves jumping on any surface that has even a hint of springiness to it, and he loves the water. We swim at a gorgeous pool that has wonderful extras... water slide, warm jets, sprays, an incline entry for wheelchair users or anyone with mobility challenges, loads of water toys.... the pool is surrounded by glass and it's easy to see everything that is going on from the lobby. Alexander gets in and swims, floats, bobs, his eyes the only thing visible except for his occasional head lift to pull in a breath. He can be in the water for hours and is usually easy to coax out with little fanfare or drama..... and then there are days when he is ready not only to be out but also to be done.... one such day he gave the spectators in the lobby quite the show. He gets out, goes to his towel, whips down his trunks and displays himself in all his glorious manhood. Lots of wide eyes in the lobby. Lifeguards and camp workers rush to assist him with his towel, but he is in noooo hurry as he does a leisurely turn to and fro.We eventually get him mummied in a towel and then he skips off the deck, chuckling, supremely contented. What a great swim! This same young man has the most insatiable thirst ... he frequently goes scavenging for water bottles, his own and any one else's in reach. On our week two trip to the amusement park, he went through the picnic area grabbing and draining water bottles until we were able to chase him down and give him his own quite large bottle of water. He chugs that and while we are congratulating ourselves on this feat of re-hydration, he manages to get into The Hungry Bear restaurant , grab a lady's beer right off the table and chug that down as well.... we are quite used to running interference for our campers and we offer to buy the nice lady a beer to replace the one she just lost. She graciously accepts and gives Alexander a high five... "he's a natural" she says, admiringly. Alex has a big grin.
Billy, on the other hand, is more subtle. Also an older teenager, 18 this year, another kid who is non verbal but who has no trouble at all with communicating, all arms and legs, two monster prosthetics on his huge feet, blond, with a dreamy expression on his face since he became a teenager and figured out that gorgeous young women dominate the field in disability services. He has a goofy laugh and big arm gestures that accompany that laugh. His favourite trick; convincing the girls who work with him that it is their job to go and get the ball when he throws it, or his version of fetch..... and it is usually a cute girl in tight jean shorts, and the shorter the better. The shorts I mean, not the girls. Billy throws the ball... cute girl goes to get it , cute girl bends over and picks up the ball, Billy does the goofy laugh and the big gestures. I give him the eye. He laughs even more. He knows that I know what he's doing. I shake my head, Billy, you are so busted.... but I am trying not to smile..... what's up here I ask .... he likes it, says cute girl. No shit, I think. As gently as I can while preserving both their dignity I explain to her what is likely going on.....she looks at Billy and decides that maybe he ought to be the one doing the running and bending..... he shrugs. Ya can't blame a guy for trying.
Camp is a place where we can participate in meaningful movement, something that everyone needs and deserves. And, it's a place where meaningful things happen between people who care about each other. Till next summer.