Since #CripCamp is being talked about I want to share my experience as an #ActuallyAutistic camp counselor leading a group of boys one of whom was #Autistic

/a thread

#Autism #AutismAcceptance #AutismAcceptanceMonth
I had the privilidge of going to a summer camp that didn't judge me for my differences and even enjoyed having me around enough to invite me back as a camp counselor in a volunteer role.
I had multiple meltdowns and a panic attack as a camper there over the years and was accommodated every time by allowing to me to elope.

The person who invited me was a family friend who is extremely fond of me and approached me directly about being a solution to "a problem"
A parent was hesitant about her autistic son attending the camp. I was told he was obsessive and I would have to struggle to challenge him not to play Pokémon and enjoy the experience.
His parent worried about him fitting in but was assured when she was given a no doubt flattering account of me.

I was excited for the experience as I really enjoyed the camp and would be joined as a counselor with an old friend.
Meeting the boys I would be leading I started to get an idea of the dynamics. For the purposes of this thread the Autistic boy's name will be Tim.

From the moment I met Tim I realized the manner in which other's described him to me was of little relevance to who he was.
Tim was a very focused and playful person but also very shy and immediately started walking/occupying a different space to avoid conflict with the kids who were already judging his appearance.
On the bus on the way out I sat between him and the rest of our cabin group allowing him to get his bearing and cling to me while I assured and re-assured him while joking and establishing contact with the other boys.
From day 1 I recognized the boy who would act as a leader in our group more than the others. He was the most independent and didn't like it when I was upfront about my feelings and asking for their feelings in group meetings
On day 2 conflict arose as Tim was starting to attract negative attention from the boys for his joking demeanor and stuttering voice/stimmy hands.

The leader of the group called him a bad name and Tim ran away and started melting down. One of the boys came to report it to me
After finding and consoling Tim, letting him know I had been teased for similar things and laughing through tears about it together I called an emergency meeting.

I needed to talk to the rest of our cabin group in private.
Instead of going in to scold them I sat down with all of them and ask them what had happened

The boy who had told me spoke against the leader and got really vocally upset at him.

Before it got too heated I interrupted him with a question to the group.
"What do you think about Tim?"

They started opening up with some stuff they liked about him; quickly the conversation turned to him being weird.

I pressed them on it making them describe their judgements of his autistic behavior and adjust based on each other's responses.
The boy who told me about the conflict said boldly "it's ok because he's just... different" and trailed off looking at me for guidance.

I told them that wasn't anything wrong with Tim, that the "weird jokes", demeanor, and stimmy hands are because he is Autistic.
When a couple boys started breaking from the seriousness to laugh about the word Autistic and put their hands to their chest in mockery I broke down into tears.

The sheer terror was palpable in the group of boys; scrambling to figure out what to do
They were a group of kids around a crying adult who didn't know why and had to try and console me not understanding.

They asked what was wrong and were all genuinely very concerned about me when I wasn't quick to respond.
As they consoled me verbally I let them know what had bothered me.

I told them that I as well am Autistic just like Tim and struggle with a lot of the same judgements from others.

I shared that I came off obsessive and awkward in much the same ways as a kid.
The room was silent; I let them decide how to proceed and with a bit of deliberation they asked me what it meant and how they could help

From that point on the boys in our cabin group agreed to be more tolerant and under my suggestion invite Tim to be included accepting his no
A lot of the time equivalent participation was too much for Tim and often we would stayed at the cabin instead.

I tried to always make sure his agency was first in terms of inclusion allowing him to opt out while also encouraging him to spend less time with me.
The other boys challenged kids from outside of our cabin group to be more understanding of Tim and I genuinely feel proud of my leadership in this regard.
I know it meant a lot to Tim to have an Autistic adult around who could really understand what he was going through his first time away from home.

I know I had a positive impact on him and he was very grateful to me on a daily basis.
I wonder about what effects I had on the other boys in my cabin group more than Tim.

I wonder what lessons they gleamed from that and the extent to which that challenged the prejudice they learned from others that came out when they laughed about Tim being Autistic.
Thanks for listening to my story; In a lot of ways this camp wasn't well designed for Tim and it was only through a lot of thoughtful accommodation I gloss over that it was possible to have him stay the whole time.

We had contingencies to get him home overnight and almost did.
I have almost never seen a more relieved and happy parent than Tim's mom when I met her at the drop off.

She was crying tears of happiness hearing how it went and thanking me; I joined her in crying because I was sad that it was so rare that her son be accommodated well.
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