“I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” (Psalm 121 ESV)
One of the great things about the summer for our kids is the opportunity to attend a camp, whether it is an overnight go-away camp or just a local day camp through a church or private organization.
It is, however, a challenge for our special needs kids because of the extra support they require, and it is a real blessing when they have a qualified one-to-one aide to support them there. But there is always a fair deal of anxiety, at least for me, since even when it is a camp with a special needs focus, you still wonder if the person will be a match for our child.
This year, our 11 year old non-verbal autistic son attended one week of a day camp at our local YMCA, along with some other special needs friends from his school community. I thought it would be great initially, since I thought it would be a wonderful experience, but I didn’t relax until my wife let me know who his one-to-one aide was, his Special Olympics swim coach. This is a man who runs a wonderful program at the YMCA for our special needs kids with private swim lessons and also coaches and trains them to compete, and above all else he is a loving and a caring man.
The week my son attended camp turned out to be one of the highlights of our year, as every day we received pictures his coach would send us of him engaged in a variety of activities, including sports in the gym and on the field, swimming and games. The tears would fill my eyes as I saw the evidence of my son interacting with his peers in typical ways, not looking out of place or unhappy with his surroundings, but with huge smiles and the joy of a child at play. My favorite memory is the short video I received of him practicing to shoot a basketball in the gym with the help of another counselor, a skill he has really been trying to learn for sometime.
All of this would not have been possible if it wasn’t for his coach, who didn’t need to go out of his way to support just one student, but his love and kindness showed through when we needed him. It was a profound reminder that when we think something is impossible for our kids, God can make a way by bringing just the right people into our lives when necessary. Our prayers for him to have a good experience were not just answered, we were exceedingly blessed because he had the one person that fit him the best.
A week later when we were on a camping trip, I was playing with my son in the arcade room at the resort, and he was immediately drawn to the basketball shooting game way back in the corner. This is the type of game he had played many times in the past and I knew he really enjoyed playing, but many times in the past it had been somewhat difficult for him because he lacked the gross motor skills to do it easily. However as he ran up to the game now, he easily picked up the balls and pushed them up from his chest appropriately, the result being the balls traveled to the hoop and either rebounded or went right in, something that he was never successful at.
My mind immediately raced back to the video I watched with the counselor who helped practice the skill with my son repeatedly. That would not have been possible without the gift of our son’s very special one-to-one aide that showed up at just the right time and became the special “angel” we needed then.
I know there may be some activities or programs that he may not always be equipped for, but I also know that if we pray for help, help will come and we can trust that it will be better than expected.
Written by John Felageller
John lives in Northbrook, IL with his wife Elizabeth and his son Christopher (ASD), and is currently an Elementary Teacher at a Charter School in Chicago, IL. He is a regular contributor to Key Ministry’s Special Needs Family blog, and is both a live presenter and on Key Ministry’s Facebook page. He coordinates a Special Needs Dads meet-up in his community and works with several other local Special Needs organizations that serve both parents and children.
Connect with John on his Facebook page here.