On Thursday June 28th, I arrived at Coleman Country Day Camp for my first day of an experience that has truly changed my life. This was my first summer working at this particular camp, which was a brand new place, with new faces, and new challenges. So to say that I was nervous is an understatement. But despite the nerves, I knew I was ready to begin the 2-month adventure that I will in the end, deem the best summer of my life.
I had the complete and utter joy of coming to camp everyday and working one-on-one with a 6-year old boy named Ryan. Ryan is Autistic and does face many psychological challenges daily. Being an aspiring Special Education teacher, I knew that children with Autism can be difficult to work with, but with patience, love, and guidance, they have the full potential to be truly amazing.
Over the next two months I learned more about him than I would have ever imagined, which helped guide me in my role as his counselor. Right away I was able to see that for a child going into 1st grade, he is unbelievably brilliant. His memory is outstanding and his reading skills were far above the other 1st grade boys in our group. I also learned how to easily recognize when he was getting too frustrated or over-stimulated and how to help defuse these emotions in him. I learned what silly little games or phrases made him laugh and how gymnastics, swimming, playgrounds, and computers were his favorite things to do at camp. And most importantly, I learned everything there is to know about NASCAR, being that is his absolute all time favorite thing to watch, research, and learn about.
What really struck me most in the end though, was how much I saw him truly grow from that first nerve-racking day in June, until the very last tearful day at the tail end of August. It still amazes me that he was able to develop such a trust in me, and that I was part of the reason why he progressed as he did. His accomplishments this summer were outstanding, whether it were his physical accomplishments such as successfully completing the 2nd level of swim instruction, learning the how to climb a rock wall, or trying new sports like GAGA ball, or whether it was his emotional accomplishments like expressing his emotions, developing stronger communication skills, and forming relationships with the other boys. Through all of these special moments, I had the honor of being right by his side every step of the way. I wouldn’t have wanted to spend my summer anywhere else or with anyone else, and the memories that he has given me will last with me forever. Until next summer 🙂