A few weeks ago I grabbed lunch with a friend I hadn’t seen since last May. As we caught up on life, she asked me if I had had any summer relationships. As I glanced over the past four months, snapshots of work, home, gym, dinner, and bed at 9:30 p.m. reoccurred in my mind. I was lucky if I even saw my friends. A summer fling was something I was neither looking for nor could fit into my schedule. So I giggled and replied with a quick no. But as I rewound the past months in a moving montage in my head, I realized I did have a summer romance. Eight in fact. The object of my affection just happened to be thirteen and fourteen year old boys with autism spectrum disorders, and they utterly and entirely stole my heart.
I worked this summer as an assistant group leader at a therapeutic day camp through Massachusetts General Hospital for children with autism and Asperger’s Syndrome. The camp, called Aspire, has its home base at Hale Reservation in Westwood, MA. Each week, my group, the Fire Ants, took part is sports, swimming, art, high and low ropes, fishing, nature exploration, and board games. However, as a therapeutic camp, Aspire aims to teach social and life skills that provide children with improved self-confidence, the ability to make and maintain friendships, strategies to cope with depression and anxiety, and positive modifications to behavior to allow them to succeed in school and everyday life. Aspire draws on approaches from psychology, special education, occupational therapy, speech therapy, and recreational therapy. As a CSOM finance and marketing girl turned psychology major, I was completely immersed in my element. I received clinical experience performing case reviews before meeting my group, conducting weekly phone calls and one in-person conference with parents, sending home daily reports, making visuals and social stories, and creating weekly goals for my boys. In addition to forty hours of staff training before camp started, I was also a part of weekly training sessions throughout the summer which helped me further develop skills to assist in moments of frustration and anxiety and to help my boys become more aware of their bodies and their impact on others.
However, there were many things I learned this summer that couldn’t be taught in psychology textbooks and supervisor lead training sessions that made this one of the best summers of my life, such as:
1. How to trade Pokémon cards.
2. How to play Yu-Gi-Oh.
3. How to play Minecraft.
4. How to take a fish of a hook by a six year old.
5. All of the words to a One Direction parody song “We Don’t Know We’re Terrible”.
6. All of the words to a Minecraft parody song.
7. All of the words to pretty much any Youtube parody song about video games.
8. How to read Manga.
9. That all problems can be solved with light sabers.
10. That thirteen-year-old boys know a lot more than you think they do.
11. That some people can have such a huge impact on your life that you bawl when saying bye to them.
12. That a smile from a child in the morning is the best way to start a day.
13. That a child’s giggle is one of the best sounds.
14. That understanding and compassion goes a long way.
15. That I should never have been in CSOM.
16. That this is my passion and vocation.