I HATE summertime. It’s not just because I have a natural aversion to being hot and sweaty, as well as a body genetically made for layers of sweaters and parkas, but also because of the “childcare” issue. Summertime means five full days of care for my son, preferably somewhere that can handle his challenges and still provide a fun environment for him. This summer was definitely a challenge, as well as a learning experience.
Since he completed pre-K this year, and is due to start Kindergarten, we thought long and hard about the best option for him during the summer. Although he attended a childcare facility last year that specifically works with both disabled and regular children, their cost exceeds $900 a month, which would be a significant impact to us. Besides that, we really wanted to try and “mainstream” our son in a program, since his school is placing him in a regular kindergarten class. We thought it would be a good experience for him, and hopefully prepare him for the coming school year.
With all this in mind, we decided to put him in the YMCA’s summer day camp program. Holy cow! On the first day, we took our son to his elementary school campus, where the Y was having their day camp program. There were well over 100 kids in the cafeteria already. As I spoke to my son about being good, listening, etc., I already knew we were headed for trouble. That’s an awful lot of kids in one place at one time for there not to be trouble.
On the 2nd day of camp, I got the phone call. Connor had hit other kids a number of times, and was being “suspended for 3 days.” So much for the director’s assurance on the phone that they were capable of working with children with special needs. So, I leave work and hope that I will have a job to come back to at the end of the week.
After many phone calls to the Y, we decided to move my son to their day program at another school campus, a couple of miles away. The number of children there was 90, as opposed to the 150 at his campus. There was also a lead counselor there that was very experienced in working with children with special needs.
Although no program is perfect, I have to say that the Y really made great efforts to work with us. The lead counselors at the other campus were great, and worked so beautifully with Connor. The unfortunate part is that in the afternoon they leave, and other “non-lead” counselors take over. The majority of the challenges with hitting occurred during the afternoon hours, with counselors that did not understand his needs as well.
Connor made it a total of nine weeks in the summer camp program before we made the decision to pull him out. For the last three weeks, he spent the days with his respite provider, and two or three other children. It was a much smaller group, and provided a way for him to wind down before the beginning of school. I wish I could say that the hitting stopped, but even in the small group it continued.
All in all, I have to say that the summer experience was a positive one. I could dwell on the negative, and mull over what didn’t work, but what’s the point? The fact that my son lasted nine weeks is a huge accomplishment. There were many good weeks, and some not as good. But he had the chance to be included in regular activities with regular kids, and had a great time. I think it was a great opportunity for him to do some great activities, and learn to get along with others. Well, try to learn, at least.
I may not be able to say that he is 100% ready for kindergarten, and there will be no behavior issues, but of course, I can’t. I do, however, think he is much more prepared than he was, and I know he will have additional supports in place at school that he didn’t have at summer camp. I am so proud of him for trying, and never once being afraid.
He is my hero.