Monday, July 11, 2016

One of My Angriest Moments

If you ever get a chance to meet me, you will find that I'm one of the easiest going people you will meet. I can think of perhaps a half dozen times in my 47 years where I was really angry. Let me tell you about one of them.

This happened a number of years ago. Our son with autism had gone to an overnight Christian camp for a week and had an awesome time. We were eager to send him back to repeat this very positive experience. My wife began the conversation with the camp in January because our son needs one-on-one assistance. It was agreed by the camp and they seemed happy to have him return.

Summer eventually came around. My wife was on a mission trip in Europe but all I had to do was pack his things and drive him to the camp. Logan was very eager to return to camp and showed it in his own way. When we arrived at the camp, a number of the counsellors from the previous year recognized Logan and were excited to see him.

This is a picture of Logan on the way to the camp in this story

However, when I registered him, they told me that they had no record that an autistic child was going to be attending and no arrangements had been made for one-on-one support. I talked to the camp director and he assured me that they would try to make things work but could make no promises. While frustrated about the miscommunication, I really believed that things would work out.

I was wrong.

Only a few hours after I had dropped Logan off, I received a call from the camp director. He told me that they were unable to meet Logan's needs. He made sounds, so they had to keep him in the sound booth when they had their worship services. They were unable to engage Logan during the other activities. After a couple of hours of trying, they were done. He had already fallen asleep, so they would let me wait until the morning to pick him up, but he had to go.

Just thinking about this sends the blood to my head and my anger starts to rise. On the way to the camp the next morning, our three younger children kept asking me why we had to pick up Logan already and why he couldn't stay at camp.

Good question.

It broke my heart to pick up Logan and to explain to him that things had changed, that his week at camp was not going to happen and that he had to come home. Logan is nonverbal and people assume he is low functioning but we know that he is really near or above average in intelligence. It is just masked by his communication challenges. What does this do to a kid?

My anger raged within me as I drove him home. But two more things would happen that would raise my anger again.

One was that I received a call from the camp director. They discovered the communication they had with my wife in January where they had agreed to provide support for Logan. They offered for me to bring Logan back to the camp and they could try again. I refused. I couldn't put Logan through that again. You can't change things and then change them back again when it comes to a child with autism.

The other was something that I observed at home. Remember, those camp counsellors (who were all Bible college students) who couldn't engage Logan, no matter how hard they tried? Well at home, guess what happened? Our three younger children (the oldest of which is five years younger than Logan), decided they wanted to play with Logan. Logan does tend to get into his own world and he does this by focusing on his "stim object," which in his case was a small toy wrapped in a sock. So the kids grabbed his sock and ran, not in a mean way, but as a way to engage Logan.

As I sat there stewing about all the recent events, I watched as not only the three younger ones but Logan as well, ran around our living room giggling at the top of their lungs. These very young and untrained children in minutes had found a way to engage Logan even though trained young and older adults had already concluded it was impossible to engage him. I was happy and proud of my children but it increased my anger.

Am I fair to this Christian camp? I don't share the name of it because I believe they are doing some good work. Yes, they made some bad mistakes and yes it hurt both my son and myself. But I think the problem is in many ways typical of what happens in our churches and other organizations. This could have happened anywhere.

I share this story, not to hold on to bitterness, but as a challenge for all of us in how we treat those with disabilities and their families.

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