01 August, 2010

not complete thoughts

(I posted this on July 10, but on July 11 SK found out his brother died and he had to go home, so I got rid of the post because it made me too depressed to have it be on here.)

I feel a little sad about my camper SK, who is 20 and grabs people's hands and repeats phrases over and over. In the teenager/young adult section of the camp (12-early twenties), most of the campers are pretty socially functional. It's hard to explain what I mean by this, especially because I don't want to act like there's an objectively correct way of socializing. And plenty of the campers are unusual people. But while he wouldn't stick out so much in the adult section of camp, SK is the only camper in the teenage section who goes up to people he doesn't know very well, grabs their hands and tries to put their hands on his heart or his ear, and asks them over and over if they're having fun.

I love SK and I believe there's room for him in the world. However, I currently feel like there needs to be more room for him in his section of the camp. At the beginning of the session, two teenage campers who are best friends would always respond to SK's attempts to hold their hands by saying, "Stay away from me" and playing tricks on him. Stuff has improved a little--now they very patronizingly redirect SK to a high-five, and say, "Good job, buddy." (The phenomenon of passing or closer-to-passing campers patronizing more visibly disabled campers is something we see a ton of.) And this morning SK had an exchange with one of my other campers that warmed my heart:

SK: T! T, did you have a good night's sleep? T! T!
TL: ...What?
SK: Did you have a good night's sleep?
TL: Yeah man, how about you?

It's really hard to get the other campers in our cabin to stop rolling their eyes and sighing when SK tries to initiate conversations with them. One of them is still pretty ostentatious about trying to avoid SK, but I think the other two have gotten more friendly or at least tolerant. I'd like to think that my co-counselor and I may have helped model better reactions, since we openly adore SK and enjoy talking to him.

SK's counselor last year begged not to have him again, said that SK would drive TL crazy with all his talking, and thanked other campers for being so good at "dealing with" SK. This really bothers me. When SK finally arrived at camp after that buildup, I was surprised that his supposedly unbearable comments were things like: "Are you having a good time? And you look great! And you're doing great! Do you like horror movies?...Well, at least we're having fun together. And are you going to dance with me at the dance?"

SK always tries to talk to a girl who dislikes him. She is pretty much nonspeaking but she gets so tired of being asked if she's having a good time that she has managed to get out the words "SK, shut up!" on more than one occasion. I'm not saying that she should be made to be friendly to SK--I don't think that's possible, and I try to remind him to avoid her--but I am frustrated that some counselors frame these incidents as "look how much SK annoyed her and wouldn't leave her alone," as if SK has good impulse control/understanding of the situation and has intentionally made a choice to annoy other campers. I'm thankful that there are many counselors who do enjoy SK, but there are others who imply that my co-counselor and I aren't being tough enough on him, or something, because we go along with his jokes and we're not constantly going, "SK, hands off! Settle down! Stop talking!"

I'd love to see SK in ten years and find out if he has gotten more socially functional, but I also feel that, while he will always annoy some people, there's a lot more that other campers and counselors could do to accommodate SK and keep him from being isolated in the way that he is now isolated from most campers. And I have to say that I think campers can sense whether their counselors think of SK as an Obnoxious Problem, and when their counselors enjoy SK and think he's cool. When you frame someone that way (implicitly or explicitly) you give other people more room to be nasty to them.

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