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Adventures with summer camps

Posted by David on July 17, 2014 in Hockey Dad, Life, Parenting, Stone, Twins, Ty |

This is the third year we’ve had to plan for summer activities for Ty and Stone between school years. The past two years we’ve enrolled Ty in a summer-long camp that is managed by the City of Edmonds and he’s really enjoyed it. They do a mixture of activities ranging from explorations along the waterfront to swim dates at the local Yost pool. Stone has been part of special Summer therapy programs put on by local Autism service providers.

stone van

Stone climbing into the Outdoors for All van as he heads to camp!

This year we decided to mix things up a bit by enrolling both in new camps and activities. It actually started during Ty’s hockey season, when some of the other parents were talking about a weeklong hockey camp during the summer. I checked it out online and thought it would be a good opportunity for Ty to immerse himself in hockey for a week during the summer and build relationships with some of his teammates and other hockey players.

I also wanted to get Stone involved in a camp called Outdoors for All. This organization works with special needs kids and arranges an amazing array of activities each week through out the summer – everything from hiking to kayaking. Last year I attempted to sign Stone up for the camp but was too late – each week was already sold out by May. So this year I was determined to make sure I didn’t miss the boat and got Stone signed up as soon as registration opened.

In addition to the hockey camp, I signed Ty up for four weeks of the Edmonds camp (he said he liked it and wanted to continue going), two weeks in a new water sports beach camp (also run by Edmonds), one week of flag football and another week in the Wonka Chocolate Factory camp run by the city of Shoreline.

Needless to say, there is a lot of activity and lots of coordination involved with arranging transportation between the two since they are involved in different camps each week.

Stone’s camp meets at Magnuson Park and he rides a bus/van provided by Outdoors for All from a Seattle park and ride under I-5. We make we have him in the parking lot and ready by 8:45 or so. The OFA camp counselors and leaders have been fantastic in every way possible. On Stone’s first day of camp, Renee and I ended up driving him directly to the camp because there was a bit of miscommunication about where we were supposed to meet the bus. It worked out as it gave us an opportunity to see the camp and meet the counselors in person. Renee was especially worried about the experience as this was the first time Stone would be riding a van without one of us and participating in a camp (instead of being in some sort of therapy activity). But it was clear that this is an organization that is very well-versed and trained in dealing with special needs kids like Stone. When we received an email later that day from the camp leader with a quick update letting us know that Stone was smiling, laughing and having fun on their hike that day, we knew he was in good hands.

And for the first two weeks of Stone’s camp, everything went smoothly. We honed our process of getting his lunches, clothes and necessary items ready and coordinated his arrival/pick up with our baby sitter. Stone was having a great time in camp and I was patting myself on the back for finding and initiating this match.

But on the third week things changed. Early that week we noticed that Stone wasn’t quite himself in the evenings. He seemed especially tired and lethargic and his eyes were a bit bloodshot. He also was a little crankier than normal but we just attributed all of it to his very busy daily schedules. We figured he was just pooped and having an off week. On Thursday though, I received a call at work from the camp leader. She told me that Stone was also having a rough week at camp. Counselors reported that he wasn’t taking direction or listening as well as he had previously – and was also frequently running away from the group and had to be chased down. In one case he ran into the parking lot – oblivious to traffic and cars (which unfortunately is true of many kids on the spectrum). She told me that this was obviously a safety issue and concern, as they have one counselor watching 2-3 kids (which is an awesome ratio by the way) and they can’t afford to leave other kids while chasing down one who runs away. She said that unfortunately if this behavior continued, we would have to send a caregiver to accompany. Stone.

I was initially crestfallen. First, I was disappointed and confused that Stone’s behavior changed so much in such a short period of time. But then we remembered that Renee had fought off an off-season head cold the weekend before. It was very possible that Stone picked up the bug and wasn’t feeling well. The OFA counselor also noted that other campers had gone home sick earlier in the week. So it was entirely possible (and probably even likely) that his behavior was caused by not feeling well – and not wanting to do things. We collectively agreed to keep Stone home from camp that Friday and to send him in as usual the following Friday and hope for a return to his old camp behavior.

As for Ty, its been a bit of a roller coaster experience with camps to date. The first two weeks were Edmonds summer camp, and I figured that this would be the easiest stretch for him, given his familiarity with the program and routine from previous summers. But alas, it wasn’t to be. We received reports from Ty that he was getting into trouble at the camp for being disruptive. He was hitting some other kids and destroying their sand castles on the beach. When we pressed him why he was acting this way, he said he was upset and frustrated that other kids weren’t playing with him or including him in their activities. We told him that we understood his frustration but reinforced that the way to make friends is NOT to hit them or destroying their sand castles. Ty very much likes to be in control of situations (we understand that desire all too well) so he’s still learning how to deal with situations when kids are playing a game with rules that he doesn’t like (or understand). All of this is to say I was actually glad when the 2nd week was completed and Ty would be going off to beach camp and taking a break from his Edmonds campers.

The beach camp was a big hit and success overall with Ty. He got to wear a wetsuit every day and do lots of fun activities including paddle boarding, boating and snorkeling in the Puget Sound. The only negative? The wetsuit and shoes he wore created some chaffing sores on his feet, legs and arms. But nothing too bad.

This brings us to this week and hockey camp. What I didn’t mention earlier was that this hockey camp is being held in Kent – a good 30 miles south of Edmonds. Fortunately, when I signed Ty up for the camp months ago I arranged with some of the other parents who live in Seattle to carpool to/from the practices. Given that the camp starts at 8:30 am. I’ve had to deliver Ty to our carpool partner by 7 am. This means a brutal 6:15 am wake-up for Ty and getting him dressed and fed while en route to camp. The logistics have worked out nicely – carpooling has given Ty the chance to ride with other kids and families, and I think this is important for hi developmentally. The challenge has come with Ty’s competitiveness (again) and how he handles new situations. To say the least, the week started off on shaky grounds.

When I picked up Ty from our carpool partners, the mother pulled me aside and said that one of the coaches mentioned to her that Ty had a few crying episodes during the day. He said it wasn’t anything too bad but he was worried Ty would come home and complain about crying and not having fun. When I pressed Ty about it during the drive home, he said that he got frustrated losing during some of the drills, so he started crying and in one case, hit another player (who apparently had hit him first). Obviously this was not the start of the week we were looking for. We told him to do better on Tuesday and he agreed.

Tuesday night when I picked him up the other parent said he didn’t have any new reports from the coach about Ty so we assumed it all went OK. Ty mentioned that he had a “little rough” morning but said the afternoon went much better. We didn’t get any other details until Wednesday morning when we learned from another parent that the coach shared with him that Ty had another tantrum in the morning and had even swung his stick in anger at one of the other coaches. He said that if this happened again Ty would have to leave the camp.

Again I was crestfallen. First, I had to worry about Stone’s behavior at his count and wonder if he’ll be able to make it through the entire summer (there is no way we could afford to pay our baby sitter to be with him all day at camp). Now, I had to worry if Ty would make it through hockey camp without getting expelled. I decided that it would probably be a good idea for me to drive to Kent myself and talk to the coach in person so I did just that. We spoke after the Wednesday session and he debriefed me about the earlier situations. He said that Ty had a few situations but that when he misbehaved, the coach stuck him in the penalty box and allowed him to cool down. I told him I totally supported that action as I want Ty to learn there are consequences to bad behavior. But the coach assured me that since Tuesday morning Ty’s behavior had dramatically improved and he did great the rest of that day as well as Wednesday. We both shared our confidence that he will finish the week strong.

One of the silver linings that emerged from this week was experiencing the sense of support, community and teamwork from the other parents and families from Ty’s hockey team. One of the main reasons I wanted Ty to play hockey was because I thought it was important to learn how to play in such a team sport. I also wanted him to learn how to interact and socialize with kids his age. And I do believe that hockey has helped tremendously. But you never really know how people – especially kids – will respond to situations like these when you have another kid struggling like Ty has at times this week. And this has been the really beautiful part.

Ty has learned that he is part of a team – even though they officially stopped playing together as a unit months ago. The five other kids on his team have rallied to his defense – totally unbeknownist to me until yesterday, when I received the following text from another hockey dad:

“Having been here all week, including the locker room, I’ve witnessed many tantrums of Ty. One thing that has really impressed me is that your former players are ALWAYS willing to go sit with him to calm him down. Whenever another kid says something unkind bout his actions, one of your players will always stick up for him. They are all incredibly well behaved and kind. Could you please pass that along to the other parents?”

And so I’ve discovered that its not just the kids who get to learn new things through these summer camps. I’m extremely touched that Ty has great friends and teammates supporting him. This is an important lesson that will help him through the rest of his life.

Oh, and Stone has had another great week at camp – other than stealing food from fellow campers (the kid is eating a ton). But it looks like he’s back to his old self and my fingers are crossed he’ll make it through the rest of the summer.

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