BY Kristina Tober, JUNE 2018
Five summers ago, we dropped off our 10-year old son Luke for his first camp week. After too many experiences “apologizing” to caregivers for Luke’s behaviors, to have the staff at Ascendigo tell us we were overdue for some respite was heartening, to say the least.
Ascendigo is so much more than respite. Yes, as parents, we get time off from the care-giving that’s a constant in our lives. But our kids aren’t just being watched. They are braving rapids, riding waves and horses, peddling a bike for the first time, camping and hiking on weekends – having the time of their lives.
And it’s so much more than adventure. Having fun builds confidence and independence. Luke comes home from camp needing us less, exhibiting fewer behaviors, even brushing his teeth on his own. There’s no greater testament to the magic of Ascendigo than the moment we pull up to Colorado Mountain College and get out of the car, only to have our non-verbal son kiss us, say “bye” and run off to greet all the familiar faces.
Looking back, there are probably a few things we should have done to make the transition a little smoother for everyone. While every kiddo on the spectrum is unique, here are our Top 10 Tips to making the transition to camp easier on you and your athlete:
1. Start talking about camp. Whether it’s sharing a social story, looking at photos of Colorado mountains and rivers, or the dorms and campus at Colorado Mountain College. Ask your athlete what they are anxious about and try to alleviate some concerns about the new experiences ahead.
2. Reduce screen time prior to camp. Ascendigo limits electronics at camp in favor of more active, engaged activities.
3. Make a list of your camper’s particular preferences or habits. This list will help his/her coaches with engagement and participation. For example, our son tends to be a grazer and can get cranky when he’s hungry. His day coach learned to pack a lot of healthy snacks for every outing.
4. Upload your Behavior Intervention Plan and list of quick tips for behaviors most likely to be exhibited in a new setting with new demands (we work closely with our school team to pull this together). This also gives you a great checklist to work from when introducing your athlete to his/her team of coaches.
5. Don’t over-pack. There are washing machines on each floor and the staff doesn’t hesitate to wash clothes when needed. Here’s where name labels come in handy!
6. Don’t be afraid to share your camper’s worst “scenarios.” I’ll never forget hearing the founder of Ascendigo remind the staff that they only have to manage problem behaviors for the summer while the parents have been doing it for years. The staff is trained, rely on each other for support, and are beyond positive in managing challenging situations. As any wilderness expert knows, you just need to “be prepared.”
7. Think about buying a wet suit for the lake activities. Water in Colorado is refreshing to say the least. Athletes will also need to wear helmets for horseback riding and rafting, so get your camper used to wearing the gear ahead of time.
8. Pack a favorite pillow, blanket, or whatever your athlete likes to sleep with. Jam-packed day activities will tire out your athlete, and having something familiar at the end of the long day always helps. If they have a preferred item (our son likes to carry a rubber dog bone with him at all times), pack a few extra as backup. If your camper uses a tablet or iPad for communication, make sure to get extra protection (check out Otterbox or Lifeproof cases). It wouldn’t hurt to have a backup iPad with everything downloaded, just in case.
9. Plan something special for the time your child is at camp. Know that they are in amazing hands and reconnect with your spouse, other children, friends and families.
10. Share cell numbers or email with your coaches before you leave. Don’t worry, they will not pester you with every concern! However, a quick text from a coach can help prevent a bigger behavior and make everyone a lot happier and more successful.
I honestly believe there’s something magical in the mountain air. Truthfully though, it’s the amazing positive and energetic staff at Ascendigo who are dedicated to giving our kids the camp experience they certainly need and deserve.