So for the next few posts, I’m doing something a little different. Instead of covering my experiences in a general Autism-related topic, I’m going to be revisiting some old memories of mine and reflect on them from the perspective of an Autistic adult looking back on her childhood. I’m calling it the Independent Experience, because the common thread between them is my parents weren’t involved.
So to start us off, Chapter 1, part one of two: Camp.
In 2009, I took my first steps into the world of Camp Akeela. It’s a Sleep-Away camp, but it was founded with “quirky” campers in mind – primarily those with social and learning disorders. I remember a large open field with two rows of cabins, one on either side, a big mess hall and a small sports field, a nature walk, a barn, and a lake.
I also remember being scared out of my mind. I had gone to a camp away from home the year before, and it had been a testing and tiring experience. The difference was that place was for kids in general – this was a place for kids like me.
I had never been around so many kids with conditions like mine. Looking back, I don’t think I’ve ever seen that many people like me in one place since. Sometimes it can be easy to forget there are other people with Asperger’s who are just out living, real people and not symptoms listed in a doctor’s book.
It was not easy to forget when I was at camp.
Being in the outdoors and living in cabins provided a whole host of issues – dirt, lack of temperature control, timed showers (five minutes each, and I’m still able to make that time today), and most of all living with other kids who had as much trouble reading social cues as I did. Communication was both simple and unclear – what was straightforward to me might have been vague to somebody else and vice versa.
But the thing I remember most, eight years later, is that we were experiencing them together. We were all “quirky” and we found a community, and it’s hard not to bond over getting sand in your shorts when you were all at the same fire pit. There’s something special to be had there, realizing you’re all going through the same thing, even if you experience it differently.