This summer has been quite memorable in my family for several reasons. If you follow my articles, you know that we committed to buy an Airstream camping trailer and have gone on a lot of short but memorable trips as we get more comfortable with towing. Our son Christopher has still been in the recovery process from the Chiari (brain) surgery that he experienced back in April; he is happily on the road to a full recovery. Believe it or not, the biggest event for me was my son being able to attend a YMCA summer camp for a week. Luckily, he had his swim coach, who is the Special Olympics coordinator there, be his one on one aide. This was huge for him. He had never attended a typical summer camp before, as he had always been in summer school or therapy most of the time. We had also been unsure if he could successfully navigate that kind of environment. When his coach stepped in and offered to help, we were so grateful to him for helping our son be able to participate and belong.
This experience made me start to think about the whole summer camp thing, and why it was such a big deal that he got to attend. While we always want our children to be included as much as possible, going to summer camp seemed to communicate some kind of a milestone. There could be any number of reasons: relative independence, he gets to attend a day of activities that are not therapy-based, or the interaction with the kids. I was a city kid raised in Chicago, and I can honestly say that my version of summer camp was going to friends’ houses to play, going to parks or riding our bikes downtown.
But there was something else that came to me, and it was the memory of a different kind of summer camp that we all attended as a family for five years straight: the Joni and Friends Family Retreat at Maranatha Conference Center in Michigan. You may be familiar with this camp or attended yourself, so you know what a wonderful blessing it is. If you haven’t, it is a Christian disability retreat in which you are provided with a one on one aide for your special needs child. Parents and typical siblings get to have a week off and enjoy a variety of activities. Because of the rise in the popularity of the retreat, it has become more difficult for us to get approved to go. We also felt it was right to step aside for a few years so new families could have a spot. Yet as I reflected on all of the wonderful memories of those years we had, I was reminded of a conversation with a close friend after the last camp we attended in 2017. That conversation helped me put into perspective why summer camp of any kind was really a big deal, and how even those closest to us “just don’t get it.”
Source: Special Needs Parenting- Key Ministry