The Feeling of Sameness

Have you ever wished that your special needs child could live in an environment full of people who totally understand his differences? An environment where the other kids all had challenging differences too? I think we all have — all parents of kids with ADHD, autism, learning disabilities see how much our children struggle with being misunderstood and treated as an outcast. Of course we want to erase that potential pain.

To be honest, I didn’t think an invisible disabilities utopia like that existed. I send my son, Ricochet, who has ADHD, SPD, Dysgraphia, autism, and a gifted IQ to school and he feels like a failure, due to his neurological differences. I send him to track club and overhear fellow parents discussing the obvious differences in focus and body control between their child and my own. It feels like we can’t escape his differences.

Finding the Right Environment

Being mindful of his struggles, there have been many places I wouldn’t even try to send him, because it felt like feeding him to the wolves, and he doesn’t need more of that. Places like Little League, Boy Scouts, or summer camp. But what I discovered when we attended SOAR’s parents weekend is that it’s not necessarily about the activity not meshing with my child’s differences — it’s instead about finding the right environment for our special children to participate in these types of activities successfully. That is the crucial element! We should never limit our kids.

It certainly feels like these “special” places that accommodate our “special” kids are few and far between. I knew there were summer camps for kids with developmental and behavioral disorders, but they never felt financially attainable for our family and, despite that, I still felt Ricochet would struggle there, even in a catering environment.

This sign greets you when you arrive at SOAR's NC Base Camp

This sign greets you when you arrive at SOAR’s NC Base Camp. I got goosebumps all over, and instantly knew we were in the right place.

Then SOAR — summer camp, academy, and gap year program for kids with ADHD and learning disabilities — reached out to me. They felt we have a similar mission and wanted to discuss ways we might team up to help these great kids. Within that discussion, they invited our family to attend their annual Family Weekend at the North Carolina base of Camp SOAR. I was ecstatic to receive the invitation. Ricochet’s counselor had been recommending we attend their family weekend for two years by then, and we hadn’t been able to. Whitewater rafting is miles and miles outside my comfort zone, but I sucked it up and did it for my kids, to show them we can’t let our fears limit our experiences.

Learning from Those Who Truly Get It

After just a couple hours at SOAR that Friday night, Daddy and I exchanged a smile in the middle of the parent workshop. We left for our hotel that night (kids stay onsite without parents to experience that element of camp) and discussed how happy we were to be a part of this program. Let me just point out how huge that is — it is not Daddy’s idea of fun to sit through many hours of parent workshops. In fact, on our drive over to the camp earlier that day, he saw all the parent workshops on the schedule and made no bones about how disappointed he was that I had signed him up for that.

But, we were learning so much from Big John, the Director of SOAR, who has ADHD himself and two kids with ADHD. It turned out that we both couldn’t have been happier about stepping out of our comfort zones (he with parenting workshops and I with outdoor adventure and leaving my kids overnight). I have read A LOT about ADHD and learning disabilities over the years and I still learned a ton from Big John and the doctor that helped him lead the workshop, not to mention the other nine families that participated. So. very. much.

And yet, that is not what I find most exciting about our experience at Camp SOAR. What I find most exciting is the staff’s knowledge, empathy, compassion, and patience when it comes to these kids. These are some truly amazing people ya’ll — angels really, in my book. They treat these kids with respect. They understand that sometimes unwanted behaviors are out of their control. And they teach skills. That’s right, they work on creating habits and improving life skills while at summer camp — skills as seemingly insignificant as the manner in which you brush your teeth, and a system to be sure you remember to change your underwear daily. At SOAR, every child is seen for who they are and accepted for that, whatever it may look like. They push boundaries through adventure to show their campers that they are strong and resilient. They help them discover they have value. Time at this camp gives kids some time at peace with themselves and the chance to feel some sameness for a change.

Ricochet had the best time at SOAR (and so did his big sister). At that point in time, he had never slept anywhere without us, except a few times with Grandma, and he was waking several nights a week and coming to me during the night, yet he had no problem staying at camp (fist-bump to my boy!). Even if he had, we wouldn’t have gotten a 2 am phone call, because his counselor knew how to handle it. After 48 hours at SOAR, he had two new friends, kids similar to him, and he was talking about coming back in the summer for the Llama Trek program. By attending the short parent weekend, he realized he would be ok and even have fun away from us at camp. That, in and of itself, is so valuable.

Send Your Struggling Kid to SOAR, Get a Transformed Kid in Return

Yeah, I know, this is a RAVE review. I expected a lot and yet it turned out to be so much more than I expected. I am raving about Big John’s empathy and understanding of these kids and his knowledge of specialized parenting strategies. I’m raving about Joe, his commitment to keeping us safe as our whitewater rafting guide and his determination at every meal to make sure Ricochet didn’t feel any different than everyone else despite having to eat gluten free. I am raving about Eric and Maggie, the counselors that spent the weekend with my kids, about their patience, their understanding, and their amazing sense of adventure. I’m raving about the fact that my daughter, got to participate equally in something that is usually all about her brother, and about the friendships she made with three other female siblings who get her frustrations and fears.

I am just so THANKFUL for these people and their commitment to better the lives of children like ours. So. very. thankful!

I wrote this review of SOAR five years ago on my original blog, {a mom’s view of ADHD}. I still recommend SOAR every chance I get, and I know several families who sent struggling kids only to have their families and their lives changed by the end of their camp session.

In fact, I feel so passionately about the work Big John and his staff are doing at SOAR, about his understanding of kids with ADHD and how to help them thrive, that I invited him to speak at our 2017 Happy Mama Retreat. Of course, he was an attendee favorite. He spoke about better understanding of our kids, the power of structure, appropriate/natural consequences, redirection techniques, consistency, respect, seeing opportunity in problems, and the art of advocacy through positive parenting.

Your child’s journey to success can start at SOAR. Check out the summer schedule for camp – they have programs in NC, WY, CA, and FL and even take international trips — and their academic and gap year programs. I promise, this experience for your child is worth the cost.