How we used RDI to send our child with autism to summer camp is a look at all of the advance preparation it took to make it successful for both Logan and the chaperones. In the end, the arrangements worked out so well that it was apparent that camp is where God wanted Logan to be that week. As with anything with autism, advance prep is key to making it work. You can’t just fly by the seat of your pants if you want your child to make positive episodic memories about an encounter.
It started months beforehand when Logan brought the slip home from Sunday School to sign up. I asked if he wanted to go and he kinda shrugged. I talked about how much fun it would be. He still shrugged. I had an overwhelming desire for him to go so I made that executive decision. I talked to our Children’s Pastor about if he thought Logan could handle it. He thought that he could with some modifications. I turned in the paper with my deposit.
Pastor Frank decided that since he knew Logan the best that he would go as the boys chaperone. He had taken Logan on some church excursions and had witnessed Logan at his worst (there was an episode at bowling). Logan’s best friend at the time decided to go and her mom was going to be one of the girl’s chaperones. Mrs. Shelton is a registered nurse so we had someone to give out medicine 3xs per day. We also had someone to carry the Epi-Pen that was familiar with it so there didn’t need to be a meeting to train anyone. All the chaperones were familiar with Logan’s food allergies so we had a short meeting about what was acceptable for him to eat. I sent some snacks as well as chocolate soy milk. I wasn’t worried about that at all. Logan is really good about knowing his food. If he has any doubts then he will always decline it.
Logan stayed in Pastor Frank’s room as his room mate. This was so he had a place where he could unwind and just chill. There needed to be a place where he didn’t need to hold it together, where he felt safe, and where he didn’t have to navigate any social situations. Kinda like a safe haven if you will. A place to recharge and go slow. Where there weren’t any demands placed on him. Everyone needs a place like that. It would be all he could do to navigate the social and sensory situations that the day would hold. It was imperative to have a quiet place for him to rest.
I know you’re wondering where RDI fits in so far. We decided to put Logan in to a class lower than his grade level. He was in with the 3rd graders not the 5th graders. This practically guarantees that he will be successful as well as helpful to the other kids. The camp counselors will slow it down at that level in order to give him an opportunity to work it out. There is less expected of him at that level and to be honest, socially, it’s where he was at developmentally. Ultimately that will leave him with a positive episodic memory of camp as well of being away from home. That fact alone makes all the modifications worth it.
The camp counselor had to call Pastor Frank to come to help Logan in archery. He needed to scaffold it down for Logan. Remember that Logan has no muscle tone so he was not being very successful at pulling the string back to shoot the arrow. After Pastor Frank showed him how several times in addition to doing it together several times, Logan felt competent. Guess what happened? He started doing it himself. No further help necessary although a chaperone went with him for the rest of the week to help as necessary. I love that I explained some RDI principles to Pastor Frank and he has employed it with Logan.
The final things were ones that God worked out for us. First, Logan got really excited about it. We talked about it for the previous 2 months. We looked over the schedule of events constantly to talk about how much fun he was going to have. It was an awesome example of productive uncertainty. No one knew what was going to happen. We talked about what classes he could take which completely floored me when he said swimming. He hates to get his face wet but he was undeterred when I mentioned that they would have him hold his breath under water. He wanted to learn how to swim so he could go in the deep end with Cody, his cousin . He was super excited about getting archery. We talked about the nightly parties that the camp hosts as well as how much he was going to learn about becoming a Spirit filled servant of Christ . He was more excited than I had ever seen him.
Someone at church insisted on paying for Logan’s entire camp. It wasn’t even time to pay yet when I discovered that it had all been taken care of. This person didn’t want to pay for camp for just anyone. They insisted on Logan. If we were gonna use that as an excuse for not going, God took it away. He wanted Logan at camp and made it happen. I have never seen God’s Hand at work so much as it is in Logan. It takes my breath away to see the gains he has made socially as well as developmentally.