Every summer for the past couple of years I have had the privilege of volunteering at Camp Able, a camp for people with diverse abilities ranging from autism to Down syndrome. Every year, I grow to love it more and more and the memories I’ve created are some of my most cherished ones. So now, I am going to give you an A-Z guide on what I have learned during my time at this camp.
A: Autism is not a weakness and some of the brightest minds I’ve ever met lie on the spectrum.
B: Behavioral issues can occur, but remember they cannot always control themselves. How you handle the situation is what matters.
C: Care for them like you would care for one of your own family members. With this mentality, by the end of your time with them, you will feel like they are actually a member of your family.
D: Don’t be afraid to have fun. Of course each person is different, but not everyone is as fragile as you think they are. They want to have fun too!
E: Eliminate the word disability from your vocabulary. The word makes it seem as if they are lesser and seems to possess a negative connotation, which is certainly not the case.
F: Forget about yourself and your own worries. Invest in the time you have with them because it is a valuable experience for them and its important that all of you is present.
G: Get to know their parents and the people who help take care of them. They will really appreciate you working with their loved ones.
H: Have fun!!!! This experience can be incredibly rewarding.
I: If a person is prone to seizures, you can’t stop it from coming, however you can clear the area so that they will not bump into anything during the episode. Keep your fingers away from their face!
J: Just in case you spend time with a non-verbal person, talk to their parents about bathroom topics; i.e. if they can change themselves or if you need to help them.
K: Kill time by doing what they want to do. If they like playing with Legos, play with them. If they want to sing, sing with them.
L: Look past their diverse ability. They are more than a label.
M: Make sure you are with them at all times. You don’t always have to be right next to them, but you need to be aware of where they are because it can be a full time job.
N: Non-verbal campers are just that non-verbal. As you get to know them, you will start to notice little movements or their unique ways of getting your attention or showing you that they appreciate you and you new friendship.
O: Occasionally, or not so occasionally (depends of the person) tantrums are thrown. It is extremely important to remember not to crowd around someone having a moment and not to stare. If the person with them looks like they can handle it, let them deal with it. If they need help, they will call for it.
P: Please correct those who seem to make assumptions about non-neurotypical individuals. It is important to eliminate ableism, in all of its forms.
Q: Quit with the assumptions. Forreal. If you are curious about something, look it up or ask someone you know that spends a lot of time with a person with diverse abilities. I really can’t stress this enough.
R: Remember to give them the same respect you give those around you. They do not deserve any less.
S: Sometimes accidents happen. Someone can undress, forget to tell you they need to go to the bathroom, spill something and your job is to go with the flow. It’s not always a big deal.
T: Throw preconceived notions out of the window and open your mind to all of the possibilities. If you do this, you will truly get to know the person for who they truly are.
U: Understand that your questions aren’t always going to
V: Videos and pictures are fine to take (at my camp at least) and lead to amazing memories that you can look back on and reminisce.
W: Worrying about performing well while with your camper is normal. But they just want to have a good time, so try not to worry for too long, just try to focus on building a genuine relationship.
X: Xpect the unexpected. Its not all bad, it’s not all great. That’s all I can say.
Y: You don’t have to be serious all the time! Its okay to smile and laugh with them. You learn to know when its appropriate to laugh and when its not.
Z: (zzz) if they need a little time to recharge make sure to get them into a cool area and make sure they are drinking plenty of water.
I can’t prepare you for everything. I don’t even know everything there is to know, but these are the things I have learned in just a couple of years. Every person is different, so you really don’t know what kind of experience you are going to have until you have it. If you allow yourself to accept the good and the bad, you will come to find this can be one of the most rewarding experiences have.