When We Went To Camp

When we went to camp back in the early 1980s, there was only one camp in the state of Michigan that accepted campers with autism. There was another camp that would accept campers with autism for two weeks during the summer. If you missed that two week window, you were out of luck. I hope some of you younger parents will let me know about the camp situation for campers with autism. I know that there have been some changes, but I don’t know how much.

I was on the state board of directors at that time, so I was trying to get more camps to accept campers with autism.  I did not have any luck. Then a friend of mine got a summer job as a cook at a camp for children with disabilities. OK. so now I thought I could send PJ to that camp. Still, no luck. They accepted campers with any disability. Any disability except autism, that is. They explained that they did not have staff who were familiar with autism. They did make me an offer, though. PJ could come to camp if I came with him as his counselor.

I took them up on the offer. I thought that maybe exposure to someone with autism would help change their rules. They said that I could also help be a counselor for the other campers.

So, off to camp we went. PJ and I both like water and trees, so spending our days  outdoors was good for both of us. I could feel the both of us calming down. The healing properties of nature and all the fresh air and sunshine was just what we needed. We did not eat meals with the other campers, so when they went to meals, PJ and I had the camp all to ourselves. We both loved it. This experience is one of the reasons that when we started the PJ Foundation, paying for camp for children whose parents could not afford it was first on our list.

The camp was on a lake, so the staff took us on boat rides. One day, while everyone was at lunch, PJ wanted to go on a boat ride. He was pulling me toward the water. He was even saying “boat” and “water”. The more I tried not to go toward the water, the more agitated he became. (You know how agitated they can become).  So, I decided that we would get into one of the paddle boats and stay near the shore. We walked down to the water.

However, when we reached the shore, common sense returned and I knew that getting into a paddle boat with an agitated PJ was an accident waiting to happen.  Everyone was at lunch so there was no one to save us if something did happen.  Now, what do I do? I knew that walking away from the water would increase PJ’s agitation. There were a couple of canoes on the bank. So we got into one of the canoes while I tried to figure out what to do.

We sat in the canoe and looked at the water.  We sat and sat and sat.  After nearly an hour, I could see that he was peaceful and calm again. We got out of the canoe and walked  away.  He was happy. How could I have known that sitting in a boat on the shore and looking at the water would have the same effect as actually going for a boat ride? I would never have predicted that it would work out that way.

PJ has been going to camp most summers since then. At age 36, he still loves camp. I cannot mention the word “camp” too far in advance, because he will go and get his suitcase. There are only two camps in the state of Michigan that accept all ages and all disabilities.  He attends St. Francis on the lake and if you go to their web site, you can see a video of the camp and my interview about the camp.  PJ’s Foundation also donates to the camp and I wish we could do more.

Until next time: May you have Peace, Love and Prosperity in your life.

Claudreen Jackson

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