Aaron’s a Dude: The Dignity of Risk

Saving the LUCK

For several years Aaron spent 3 days on a Dude Ranch in Michigan.

Before the Dude Ranch closes for the winter, buses of adults with all kinds of disability labels arrive and sleep in bunk houses, eat in mess halls, go boating, ride horses and sing songs around the campfire. For many of these adults—this is the highlight of the year.

The ranch’s owner is friends with the owner of the residential company which provides Aaron’s supports. (This is a great example of Bronfenbrenner’s system’s theory—circle of friends, using your contacts…click here).

Aaron is assigned a staff counselor one-on-one, but everyone pitches in to make sure everyone is safe and has a good time. Always being safe and having a good time sometimes contradict each other. Bob Perske used to talk about, “The Dignity of Risk” and as parents this is a complex and difficult balancing act.

This year we were lucky because one of Aaron’s regular staff went to camp. This was nice because she has worked with Aaron for 6 months and knows what Aaron likes and doesn’t like. So that helped mom’s anxiety and I would think made a big difference to Aaron.

This is about Aaron’s fifth dude experience and each time it’s a worry for me and Aaron’s dad. It is hard to get good feedback on what Aaron does and doesn’t do. I wish he could talk and tell us but I figure it is a change of pace, he likes to ride on the bus, sing songs. Especially, he likes to go horseback riding.

Aaron as a little cowboy

When Aaron was growing up, he took horseback lessons for about 10 years. He only stopped because he reached the 150 pound weight limit. When Aaron sits atop a horse, he looks like Prince Charles: head high, back straight, sometimes he even points his toes. I think he and the horses communicate in their own cosmic language. Sue Radabaugh, Bobbi Theis and the physical therapist at Cincinnati Riding for the Handicapped gave Aaron and each rider a lucky horseshoe at the end of each series of lessons.

We learned horseshoes should always be positioned so the luck stays inside the horseshoe and doesn’t fall out. Aaron still has the horseshoes–God knows we don’t want to have our luck fall out.

Each year, I try and give Aaron “the dignity of risk” and not worry about the million of things that can go wrong at camp. I don’t like to think of myself as one of those “over-protective” or “hovering” parents. Some years have gone better than others, but each year we hope and pray our luck holds.

It is just difficult having a person like Aaron who is so vulnerable, when we don’t really know how the staff will act in this very different environment. For instance, Aaron has red hair, freckles, and burns in about 15 minutes in the sun. His caregiver is from Jamaica and has never had a sunburn in her life. I send sunscreen, I give instructions, but each year we ask, “Will Aaron come home with a sunburn?” In the post about deciding to go to the family reunion (click here) I could actually do the ecological assessment and control the environment. But the Dude Ranch is too far away. I had to put the control in the staff’s hands. And we’ve had some rocky experiences with some staff.

We did find out that Aaron went right up to the horses and wanted to ride, he went out on the lake in a boat four times, and he passed out the light bracelets for the barn dance the last night. The little radio we sent for the bus ride worked well, and actually came back with Aaron. Only one toileting accident. So all is well for another year. Hopefully we will see some pictures. And hopefully we will be even better prepared for next year.

Maybe I should hammer some horseshoes (with the luck inside) up on our front door. Whew! made it another year.