I have some special needs in regard to special needs kids. I need people to understand that that are not like everyone else. They are, in fact, special. This last week I had two unrelated experiences regarding special needs kids. First, I saw a fantastic one-man play, A Child Left Behind at the Beverly Hills Playhouse, written and staring Alan Aymie. When theater is inspiring, you want to tell the world and make sure everyone goes and sees the production. It’s magical when theater connects to our hearts. Gratefully, I experienced some magic.
The play focuses on the character’s experience with working as an LAUSD teacher in South Central at the same time the L.A. times articles exposed the rating scale for teachers. He clearly explains the complete breakdown of social problems within a poorer community and the conflict and disconnect with what the government expects to be taught and what these kids and teachers actually face and deal with each day. It’s frustrating and heartbreaking, and crazy.
At the same time this LAUSD teacher is trying to finagle all these elements, we see that he also has a small child and quickly realize that this child is unique-smart, thoughtful and specific. The specificity becomes a key to understanding that the child has Asperger’s-a diagnosis on the Autism spectrum.
This is a world as a parent that I’m somewhat of an expert in. The writer’s insight into this world with a young child was spot-on accurate. The sort of unexpected highs and the shocking lows that come with having children with special needs. I sat front row center, nodding in understanding as the story unveiled before my eyes.
In addition I attended a national camp conference last week. This is a conference where many different kinds of camps come together for three days of workshops and networking to make camps better. These people are passionate and invested in our children, knowing that the camp experience is unlike any other and so critical for all children to experience.
I went to a workshop regarding what kinds of special needs children could come to camp and what kinds of difficulties they may experience. One counselor started talking about the challenge she has, which was confirmed by many others around the room, when parents send their children to camp without their medication-a sort of medicine vacation. I was so shocked, I pursed the question further. It was confirmed that because of their embarrassment to tell the camp, or perhaps cultural issues, or who knows, some parents sent kids to camp without medication. The camp was in the dark until the child was falling apart and admitted, “I don’t have my medication with me.”
I was shocked and extremely concerned. I told the others, “Well then you call the parents and tell them the child needs to come home. You set boundaries in your information packets about your policy on medication. There is no ‘vacation’ while at camp.” One attendee was so mad at me that I insisted you cannot keep the child at camp, she literally waved me off.
So as part of my public service, please let me further the conversation. Most counselors are between the ages of 19 to 24. They are in no way trained or experienced to deal with our children off their medication. Special needs children will have a challenging enough time navigating a new environment, new rules, new social expectations without having to also navigate the world without their medication. So if I can beg you to inform others and help me get the word out that there are no medication vacations while at camp!
In school or at camp, these kids need to have caregivers who know how to care – The dad in the play has a lot on his parental plate, but a 19 year old camp counselor doesn’t even have a plate yet – Children who attend the right camp for their needs can feel successful and empowered. Let’s help special needs children be successful at camp, and in life.