Summer Camp Decisions…

summer campI think regardless of whether your kid is neurotypical or not, the decision to send him or her to summer camp can be a big one.  Particularly when it comes to an overnight camp. Ironically, both my girls, neurotypical and well skilled in self-advocacy, making friends, and taking care of themselves were older than 8 when they first went to overnight summer camp.  Yet this winter when camp registrations were opening, I found myself wondering if Berrik could go, should go, or even would go.

I lost a bit of sleep over it while I weighed all the benefits and risks.  So many more things to consider for a kid his age, and especially because he isn’t wired the same as neurotypical 8 year old boys.  Let me tell you a little about my thought process:

  1. It will have to be a camp that meets specific requirements (as determined by me!).  One of them was that the camp counsellors would need to be adults – teenagers dealing with a bunch of 8 year old boys makes me nervous.  Not that a 17 year old and a 20 year old are likely all the much different, but that was one of my requirements.  The ratios of adults to kids had to be what I would consider reasonable for kids this young (no more than 5 kids per adult).  They would have to be willing and able to keep Berrik on his diet for the most part, even if I have to send all his ‘treats’.  And perhaps most importantly for me, I wanted to know that the Camp Director and staff knew what ADHD was, and had some experience with kids who have it.  (Not surprisingly, most camps I called were very familiar… it’s a pretty pervasive diagnosis amoung young boys these days, so I think every camp would have to know how to manage).
  2. So.  Assuming I could find a camp that would meet my specific requirements, I next moved on to what I felt the benefits would be.  Berrik has now been homeschooled for one year.  He has friends with whom we have regular playdates, he attends Cub Scouts, and karate weekly, is attending a spring sports camp each week, and also is playing soccer.  So he has social opportunities.  I actually don’t worry much about his ‘socialization’ per se.  He’s social.  He makes friends easily.  Not a big concern. What I like about camp is the requirements to work together with cabin mates, compete together, do chores together, win challenges together and lose together too.  The ability to cooperate with a group of people all day long for a week is a great introduction to an important life skill.
  3. This year, because we have been home together, Berrik has grown considerably in his ability to care for himself (despite how counterintuitive that sounds).  I have had time to teach him how to make his bed properly, hang up his clothes, empty the dishwasher, set the table, make simple food for himself, take care of the dog, take care of personal hygiene.  When I looked into both my daughters’ rooms this morning, it’s very clear that I DID NOT spend enough time with them on these skills (I really need to get Berrik to teach them).  While he is very self sufficient, it is not the same as being away from home and having to do chores in a different environment, take care of his belongings, keep his stuff tidy, respect others’ stuff etc. etc.  I think this next step towards independence is an important one, and I also think he’s totally ready.
  4. Berrik has been refined sugar and wheat free for 1.5 years.  He is very good at advocating for himself with family and friends with regard to what he can and cannot eat.  Taking it a step further and advocating for himself in a new environment will be great for him.  I’ll make sure the camp knows what he can and cannot have.  There are plenty of gluten free options already for the kids with celiac, so that makes it easy.  The dessert and other treats can be fruit and baking sent from home.  Not a big deal for him, and hopefully nfireot too much of a PIA for the camp.
  5. This time last year, Berrik had no confidence.  He thought he was stupid.  He thought kids didn’t like him because he wasn’t smart enough.  He was teased.  He felt like he didn’t belong.  Fast forward to now, and the difference is mind blowing.  I see it in everything he does now.  As he told me this morning, “You just need to believe in yourself Mom.  If you believe in yourself and work hard, you’ll be able to do it.”  Granted, he was encouraging me as I was complaining about folding laundry, but at least he knows the right messages!  Because he is confident, and he does believe in himself, I am excited for him to attend camp and prove to himself how self-sufficient and independent he is.
  6. Berrik loves video games.  We try to keep his screen time to a minimum.  He also loves to be outdoors.  Camp will be a wonderful opportunity to be screen-free for a whole week, along with nearly unlimited time outdoors exploring and running and playing.  This is a huge sell for me.  Thanks to homeschooling, we go outside a lot. No need to wait for a 15 minute recess!  But it’s not the same as doing camp activities with a bunch of peers, all day, every day, with zero screen time.  Both Berrik and I will love this.
  7. I asked Berrik if he wanted to go to sleepaway camp for 6 whole nights without Mom and he said “YES!!!  That would be so fun!!”  At the end of the day, that was the decision maker.  I also texted my mom and asked if she thought Berrik was ready for sleepover camp.  She said, “Oh yes, for sure!  He’d love it.”  And then a few weeks later I mentioned that it was 6 nights and she said, “Six nights!?!?  OMG.”  She thought I meant ONE NIGHT.  LOL.  Oops.  By then I had already registered him and paid.
  8. Now lets talk risks.  There are many potentials.  But I think they are all mitigateable (I know, I know, not a word.)  He could get hurt.  He could eat a bunch of crap that will make his brain feel crazy.  He could feel homesick or lonely.  But these are all the same risks that all kids are exposed to at summer camp.  I’m doing everything I can to mitigate any risks that I can think of, and have come to the personal conclusion that I can only do so much to protect him, and that overprotecting him will be more harmful than helpful.  Kids don’t die of homesickness.  They learn to be resilient.  Berrik is no stranger to bumps, bruises and scrapes.  And our family is no stranger to broken bones (thank you Avi) so while I hope he doesn’t get broken, if he does, the world won’t end.  If he gets hopped up on sugar and acts a bit crazy, then the counselor will understand why I’m so weird about sugar (and likely won’t give him any the next day! hahaha).  The benefits for this specific kid outweigh the risks.  Perhaps not so for other kids, but for Berrik, it is the case.  So off to camp he will go.

We are preparing and have been for weeks.  We talk about things he might do there, what the expectations will be, how he will make lots of friends, and what the most polite way to decline food might be.  He has identified what treats he wants me to send that he says will be better than marshmallows. He knows which stuffy will come.  We will decide on clothing choices for the week when we pack.  I think he’s going to love it.  I think I’m going to cry all the way home from dropping him off.  I may not sleep.  But in my gut I know he’s ready and I know he’ll have the time of his life.  For us, this is the right decision.

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