Inclusion…mainstreaming …general education…. One on one/shadow…these are words that fly through my mind almost daily, and are a regular part of my vocabulary. My son Sammy is 9 years old, and on the autism spectrum. He is what some might consider “high functioning.” He has no issue with communicating his needs and likes (and definitely his dislikes!). He is happy, affectionate, and has a healthy sense of humor. This social butterfly loves unconditionally and just wants to be friends with everyone. He is incredibly smart and has a memory that won’t quit. Sammy is adventurous and active, sometimes a little too fearless for my comfort level. He is incredibly aware of his surroundings and is a creature of habit. Due to his developmental disability he appears younger than he actually is. His interests are not always completely age appropriate and can be limited in scope. We work to introduce new activities and interests as often as possible to broaden his horizons and help keep up with his peers.
He has a full and happy life, but his knowledge of Judaism is quite limited. Our oldest son attended Camp Deeny Riback (CDR) in Flanders for nine years and our daughter has been there for seven years and running. This day camp program is second to none, offering an enviable array of activities and just the right dose of Jewish heritage programming. It was determined that Sammy was a perfect candidate for the Camp Friends program, CDR’s inclusive experience for children with special needs. Last year we took a deep breath (well truthfully I did, my husband was cool as a cucumber the whole time) and decided it was time to give Sammy the chance to shine in that setting too. We signed Sammy up for the minimum four week session. CDR’s staff has a reputation for being attentive, professional, and dedicated to making each and every camper’s summer a spectacular one.
It was now Sammy’s turn to experience this fantastic program and all it has to offer. Since I feared that placing him in a group of boys his own age– while being the “new kid on the block”–might be a bit too much for him, I asked if we could try fitting him in with group of boys just one year younger. This request was granted without question, and helped to ease my apprehension. Since cooperative play, initiating with peers, and asking/answering questions were at the top of our list of goals, we thought this arrangement would be a more appropriate fit.