Since I’m continually asking Zach to step out of his comfort zone I recently decided to step out of mine, and so I took my mildly autistic seven-year-old into the wilds this weekend for our first (hopefully) annual McCafferty family camping trip.
Before I go any further, I should mention the camping ground is a ten minute walk to Great Adventure. This is my idea of roughing it.
To be fair however our
campsite came replete with, well, nothing, and my son was baptized in the use
of port-o-potties, a distinct lack of running water, and a dearth of
electricity (save for Sandy he’s been a bit sheltered.) Except for the port-o-potties he thought it
all a grand adventure, as did his mom (except for her entirely stiff, aching
body the following day, apparently cold hard ground is not acceptable when
you’re almost fifty.)
We made it through however with only minor blips in our twenty-four hour excursion, which culminated in his waking and his rather loud declaration to the world that he LOVES CAMPING.
In the future my back is going to hate me.
Frankly there’s not much I won’t do for this kid despite my being such a girlie-girl (yes, my nails were done before the trip,) in part simply because I love him, and in larger part because he tries so hard in every endeavor and deserves to have his mom suck it up for him.
I could write this post today about how he waited patiently in line for over an hour to get into the park because Great Adventure dropped the ball when it came to security checks. I could tell you how he wanted so much to help, and loved being engaged with the other boys. Trust me, I could wildly brag about this kid, but I won’t, because in many ways the weekend wasn’t about him, or about his personal success.
It was about community. Because in our world it doesn’t take a village.
It takes a planet.
It’s the last day of April, which technically brings Autism Awareness Month to a close. With April 30th brings an end to the discussion of how in some ways we should be so beyond simple awareness- that our community needs to be accepted, to be embraced, to be truly and authentically included. I’ve read posts this month by writers wanting to move past mere acceptance, and I get what they’re saying, I truly do. I always want more for my boys, I push for it, demand it. We still have such a long way to go until everyone witnesses the beauty in boys and girls like mine.
But I’ll stand by awareness too, by educating one person at a time to the gifts and challenges of autism, because awareness is what made this weekend a triumph for Zachary and for me.
We would never have pulled this off even a few years ago without the support and understanding of his den and pack leaders, many of whom have taken it upon themselves to learn about autism and its many manifestations.
We would never have survived our stay without the compassion and patience of all his educators and school staff, individuals who have gone out of their way to celebrate his differences, and encourage his unique world view.
We would never have reigned victorious in the “wilds” of Jackson save for the kindness and respect of his karate instructors, his baseball coaches, his church school teachers, or the understanding of his autism sibling support group instructors.
Honestly, without their interventions, after our first look at the port-o-potty we would have been hoofing it home.
My son had a wonderful time entirely out of his comfort zone this weekend because for the past six years the people in his community, his world, have gone out of their way to do far more than accept or tolerate him. Instead, they have consistently, purposefully, enthusiastically gone out of their way to embrace him.
We didn’t just survive this weekend. We “thrived” it.
As as “our month” draws to a
close, my hope is that this awareness, acceptance, or celebration, whatever you
choose to call it, continues to spread like the warm blanket I cocooned Zach in
Saturday night, enmeshing us all in the realization that it is our differences
that make us all the glorious individuals we are.
Despite how divided our community can be I will tell you I now have hope, drawn from the well of individual acts of kindness my son has been the blessed beneficiary of all these long years. So I will end this piece with a thank you to all who have contributed to enabling us to reach this place, to every person who fueled my hope when many times the fires were dim.
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