Summer Activities| A Mother’s Hope for Her Sons with and without disabilities
NOTE: This is when Tommy was 13 and Aaron 14 years old.
Is summer different for kids with and without disabilities?
This summer Tommy, my 13 year old son, …
• Went to 2 weeks of Boy Scout camp, an experience which included a hike on the Appalachian Trail.
• Had to choose between participating in baseball or soccer. In August, however, he began training for the school cross-country team.
• Was active in a neighborhood network of five boys who decided to start a Nintendo Gaming Exchange Club. His friends called him the minute he arrived home from activities, played games until supper.
* Was invited to stay overnight with a friend or cousin.
• Had a season’s pass to a nearby amusement park, and because he can use public transportation independently, spent at least one day there each week with friends.
The days of summer flew by for Tommy. He had individual activities with friends, but also family activities which included a camping vacation and travel to a National Park. His major frustrations were either the lack of time for pursuing all of his interests, or his Mom’s suggesting he do something “dumb” like reading a book or practicing his clarinet.
Tommy’s brother, Aaron, age 14.
Aaron went to two weeks of special camp this summer.
Aaron’s major summer/weekend/vacation activity is watching Tommy play baseball, play Nintendo games…and riding to drop Tommy and his friends off.
Aaron also has a pass to the amusement park, but can only go with an adult (who so far is his mother).
Aaron spends every morning saying, “bus, bus…ready, set, go.” When the school bus doesn’t come, he sometimes licks on the front window, bites his hands and puts on his coat and backpack. He can’t figure out why his routine is different.
Aaron also can’t figure out why we spend all winter telling him to keep the front door shut, and all summer telling him to keep the front door open (but that’s another story.) *smile*
Aaron was on the waiting list for a short Easter Seals sponsored program in August, the only other community recreation opportunity available to him in our county.
What’s the Difference?
As I contrast the lives of my two boys, I can’t help thinking…
• …perhaps I wouldn’t feel Aaron’s isolation and lack of contact with any friends or same-age peers if Tommy had fewer friends.
• …perhaps I wouldn’t worry about Aaron’s behaviors, physical condition, weight and stamina if he were occasionally an active participant, rather than always an observer.
• …perhaps the hours and hours of inaction would not occur if Aaron had better skills or could entertain himself.
• …perhaps our family will adjust eventually to the sadness (and stress) we feel knowing Aaron’s only opportunities come from mom, dad or brother…and realizing it may always be that way.
* …perhaps we would feel so trapped if we could get respite regularly.
* …perhaps we’ll become accustomed to wearing a key around our necks so that the door can be locked with a deadbolt every time someone goes out or comes in (otherwise Aaron will run into the street or enter neighbors’ homes).
* …perhaps we’ll resign ourselves to our community’s “special” camps and “special” recreation programs, which effectively exclude Aaron from almost everything that is typical, regular, easily available and low cost. Perhaps hope will sustain us that someday a “community support” agency professional from somewhere, anywhere, could adapt, modify and begin to open community activities for Aaron and others.
* …perhaps our prayer will be answered that some child around Aaron’s age will care enough to help him join a circle of friends. Just once, even once.
* …perhaps/…oh perhaps…some wonderful person will believe that a community is more that a group of houses, businesses and people. Agency professionals must become bridge builders in the community. Families in which a child has a disability need the same support regular families have.
Summary: Separate is inherently Unequal.
The tragedy of having a child with a disability has nothing to do with a syndrome, impairment or disease. Words such as autism, CP, and intellectual disabilities are just descriptors the same way hair color, height, race, sex and personality are descriptors. Children don’t start out life knowing they are different. The tragedy is the reaction of families, neighbors and society, which emphasize differences.
The conflict for people with disabilities and for their families comes when the community limits opportunities, segregates and restricts individuals’ choices (e.g. Handicap swim is Tuesday; 1:30-2:30 p.m. and General swim is Monday to Friday 8:00–5:00).
It doesn’t matter that the limiting of opportunities appears, to have a good rationale or charitable intentions. Segregation limits freedom, limits choices, and limits development. “Special” means segregated.
Our Olympic Moment of Inclusion
One hot July day last summer, Tommy and his friends stopped by our house to make some peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for a picnic.
Unexpectedly, one of the boys asked if Aaron wanted to come along.
Five minutes later, all the kids were laughing, talking and riding their bikes to the park. One red-haired kid named Aaron was riding on a bike in tandem.
In about one-half hour the picnic ended and they brought Aaron back; that was the highlight of Aaron’s whole summer.
That moment for Aaron was sort of like the experience of a serious ice skater. Olympic gymnast, actor, or musician who practices day after day hoping to “bring it all together” for one magic performance or “big break” It was a “victory” –a spontaneous, normalized recreation experience, without his mom! Ahhh (smile-sigh). And now…back to work. But, perhaps, just perhaps…those wonderful, typical neighborhood kids will grow up more fully with the vision for and the experi3nce of community integration and freedom. They are the next generation of soccer coaches, swim instructors, church/synagogue group and scout learners.
The change of inclusion has begun.
Related Stories: (Click on title)
Keep Climbing: Onward and Upward
“When we stop to lift one another up on the climb, we all reach a higher place.”
All my best,
What were your summer vacations like? Would they have been different if you had a label of autism or disability? If you were a parent of a child with a disability what would you be thinking? dreaming? Are summers different for kids with and without disabilities? Can you think of anything you could do to help?