When PJ and I went to camp, it was a time of renewal for both of us, but it was also an eye-opening experience for me. Autism is so consuming of your time, energy and emotions that I forgot that there were other disabilities and other parents with challenging situations. Here at camp, I was exposed to children and adults with other disabilities.
In my role as camp counselor, I was supposed to help the other campers as well as take care of PJ. Some of the campers had multiple disabilities. A camper who was deaf, blind and mute wanted my help. She took my hand and was trying to write a word on my palm, which was her method of communicating. Not only could I not figure out what she wanted, I almost walked us into a tree because I was looking at her instead of where we were going.
This person with multiple disabilities finally got tired of me, dropped my hand and I helped her find a real counselor. The counselor said that the girl was trying to write the word “nurse” in my hand because she wanted to go to the nurse. She could write a few easy words in your palm when she wanted to communicate, but I could not figure it out. I felt incompetent at not being able to help her, but it helped me to be more sensitive to people who were not able to help even if they wanted to.
What I was good at was listening and talking to the verbal campers. Every day, I talked to a set of blind twins who were in their fifties. They told me terrible stories of how they had been abused by their stepmother and step brother. They said that their father didn’t know how they were treated when he was not around and they didn’t tell him because they wanted him to be happy.
Though they were considered retarded, they came up with ways to get back at their stepbrother. They lived in an upstairs apartment and said that they learned to count the steps that it took to get downstairs and pass under the window. They dropped a radio out the window just as the brother was passing under the window. It hit him on the head. They were laughing as they told me the story.
They did quite a few things to him and always pretended it was an accident caused by their blindness and retardation. It was interesting how close they were and how they helped and supported each other. They were far more intelligent than people gave them credit for. They said that being under- estimated didn’t bother them because it helped them get away with whatever they did. They would say, “It was an accident because we can’t see”.
They said that they had gotten tired of the stress of trying to figure out and find what clothes to put on each morning. They solved this problem by sleeping in their clothes. This made the start of their day much easier and they were proud of themselves for having come up with this solution. I was proud of them, too. They had other solutions to problems that they had come up with on their own.
This trip to camp made a lasting impact on me because it helped me to see past autism. I had come to camp feeling very sorry for myself but by the time I left I realized how blessed I was. As much as I hated to admit it, things could have been worse for PJ. He can not talk, but he can see and hear. He has never been abused. I left camp with new physical and mental energy.
I read one of my favorite scriptures, Romans 12:2. “Be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind”. I now realized that renewing of the mind is possible. Paying for camp for needy children is one of the most helpful things that the PJ Foundation does. I know it helps.
Until next time; May you, too, be transformed by the renewing of your mind.