My Story, Yours Too.

Monday, July 18, 2011

A Truly Special Summer Camp

   They comprise a stigmatized yet ever-increasing segment of our population. Approximately 1.5 percent of the US lives with developmental disabilities such as autism, Down Syndrome, and--I hate this term but it remains the official diagnostic label—mental retardation.

    Approximately 1 in 150 children per year (note that some estimates are as high as 1 in 110 and 1 in 70 boys) are born with Autism or an Autism-spectrum disorder such as Asperger’s.  Over 350,000 people in this country alone have Down Syndrome.*

    All face difficulties with daily living, be it in terms of cognitive skills, language, emotional and social functioning, self-care, and/or mobility/physical tasks.  Naturally, depression and other mental health problems are also rampant within this group, and many have survived sexual or other forms of abuse.

    Nothing but a twist of genetic fate incites a developmental disability. (Though we are inundated with concepts about the causes of autism, none of these hypotheses has been proven.) There is no cure for a developmental disability, and conditions last a lifetime.

    Fortunately, some laws and systems address this groups’ special needs. For one, Ronald McDonald Charities offers camp experiences wherein kids and adults with developmental delays can just be themselves and have a great time.

    I recently returned from one of these camp counseling stints. My co-counselor and I managed eight young ladies, ranging in age from late adolescence to the mid-forties, all challenged by developmental delays. What tipped the scales in terms of the intensity of this 10-day endeavor was, not just their constant needs, but the fact that four of them were menstruating. Imagine the level of estrogen in our cabin!

    Fortunately, the campers offered at least as much laughter as they posed challenges. I was fueled by their uninhibited randomness and spunk. (Sporadic doses of hot chocolate helped too.)

Here are 10 HIGHLIGHTS from the session. [Names have been changed to protect their identities.]

1)  When we first met, camper Traci sized me up (literally). “Wow, you’re short. But I don’t mean to make assumptions.”
2) In the middle of outdoor activity time, Jimmy casually dropped onto the grass at my feet for meaningful dialogue:

“Ekxy6tynmypsi, how about you?” he asked.

“Oh yes, how about you?” I replied.  

This exchange repeated itself 23 times.
3) While walking to the lake, Karl ranted about “sh’mucks, sh’mucks, sh’mucks!” I was tempted to commiserate via explicit detail regarding all the sh’mucks I’ve encountered in this lifetime, but – as a chipmunk crossed our path- I astutely realized he was likely referencing those little critters. Phew. Good thing I maintained a professional stance.
4) At the lake, I laid Annie’s towel across a beach chair, adjusted the chair, and told her to try it out. She stretched out on it.

“How does that feel, Annie?”

“It feels like a hundred bucks!”
5)  “Okay ladies, let’s drink some water before we leave for arts and crafts,” I suggested.
“Yeah,” Carrie quickly agreed. ”If you don’t drink enough water, you’ll get hibernated.”
6)   As Helen dashed out of the cabin to join the group, she bounced with a mixture of cheer and hypochondria. “I need to go to the nurse! I just popped my knee!”
7) In all of her glorious drama, Traci asserted, “Girls can be so dramatic sometimes!”
      8) Readying herself to take some pictures of the cabin group, Becca concentrated on highly scientific calculations: “I’ll take half of the group in one shot and then the other half in another picture. Half plus half equals two and a half.”

9)  Traci advised the group on Justin and Selena:
“Justin Bieber is 17 and he’s dating Selena Gomez. She’s 18. That’s very bad. They are setting a bad example of teenage dating.”
10)   On the last morning, with sadness pervading the campsite, Becca hung onto me for minutes with a silently somber hug. Suddenly, she blasted my eardrum, shouting “Red Robin!”

Kudos to the campers and their families for facing life with gumption, love and cheer!  They're an inspiration!


  1. Were you able to keep a straight face with some of that dialog? I had to giggle.

    Kudos to you, Robyn! You have much more understanding than many people do.

  2. Sound like you had a rewarding and awesome time, Robyn!

  3. Gripes aside, the cake is kind of awesome. Everything about it is chocolate flavoured. The base is chocolatey, the cheesecake is chocolatey and the topping pieces are made from chocolate coated honeycomb.

  4. MsA, it was especially difficult with the "sh'muck" (i.e., "chipmunk") guy. Thanks.

    Alex, tiring too. But they were a kick in the pants. Thanks.

    Sweet Hampers, hmm, I'm not sure where you or your comment came from but I'm not about to dismiss it. Feel free to send some of that cake over to me or my followers. Thanks!

  5. If there's a heaven, and I hope there is (quick, what movie is that line from?), you've earned a spot there for what you did.
    Incidentally, Traci apparently didn't see your picture in your blog. You're clearly taller than those dudes in the shorts.

  6. I agree with Alex, it sounds like a tremendously rewarding time!

  7. Number 4 and 5 are priceless!
    Blessings, Joanne

  8. “It feels like a hundred bucks!”

    Now that's sweet. It reminds me of Woody in Cheers. I think he once said "Miss Howe, you look like a hundred bucks!"

  9. Beautiful! I'm so pleased you remained professional regarding the chipmunks ;)Sue

  10. I love the new look blog. I thought you had stopped posting because your information never changed on my blog roll. I should know better by now. At least I have all these great posts to catch up on.

  11. that is just a rewarding time..for sure!
    you're really awesome!

    betty xx

  12. I didn't get the quote EXACTLY right....
    "And if there's a heaven and God I hope there is..."
    Spoken by Rhah to (of all people) Charlie Sheen in 'Platoon', one of my favorite movies. It certainly wasn't a sympathetic portrayal of the Vietnam War (much more realistic than 'The Green Berets' or even 'The Deer Hunter', I might add). It was way depressing and made me happy I was never sucked into that maelstrom, but it was still a great quote.
    But, like I said, you've earned your place there.

  13. By "there" I meant heaven, not Vietnam. But, I'm thinking you know what I meant.

  14. I'll never be able to hear the word Schmuck again without picturing Chip and Dale or Alvin, Theodore and Simon.

  15. You're so sweet, Al. Funny too.

    Yvonne, it was also incredibly exhausting, but I'm glad that didn't seem obvious. ;0)

    Joanne, I agree. 5 is my favorite.

    GB, that's cute. I don't remember that line from Cheers.

    Sue, thanks. It wasn't easy.

    Kal, great to see you. Yeah, these unresolved blogger problems are driving me mad. =s

    Betty, thanks.

    IT, me neither. That was too funny.

    Thanks for reading and commenting, all!

  16. Lady...thank you so much for popping over to my bog!

    What I'd like to know, though ... is why NONE of your posts are showing up in my Reader?!

    All this time, I thought you were away!! Did you change something in the name of your blog?

  17. These were all hilarious Robyn. I honestly don't know how you kept a straight face :0) However #10 has kept me laughing pretty hard. I'm glad you had a good time. xo

  18. I"m with Becca...that's EXACTLY how I do math and I always pass my schmuck mutterings off on chipmunks. We have SO much to learn!!! EVER SINGLE person in life had challenges. Some require more help from others to make it through....thank you for the help you provide.

    Working in such an environment can be SO rewarding. You definitely do yourself an injusitice if you fail to find the humor in it!

  19. Unless you WANT to go to Vietnam. I hear there's nothing more beautiful than Hanoi, especially this time of the year.

  20. Robin...u are a gem to give your time and energy. Life is twice as harder on them and glad they kept u entertained.
    hugs and cheers

  21. Al, I wouldn't refuse a ticket to Vietnam. I mean, since the war is over. It looks beautiful in pictures.

    Thanks Marnie.

    Daffy, I do the same math. It took a while, in fact, to realize her calculations weren't quite accurate.

    Hugs to you, Rek.


  22. That is so impressive of you. I admire people that can help out in that kind of situation. It's always been really hard for me. I get too nervous and anxious around them.