Ideally, parents should control the time and place for important discussions with their children (think the birds and the bees). In reality though, we don’t always control the ‘when’ and ‘where’ of these key parenting moments.
This is how our 10-year old son Henry found out he has Asperger’s Syndrome, a developmental disorder that impacts his ability to communicate and socialize. Henry referred briefly to this moment in his essay “What Makes Me Me” By Henry Veloso, the sequel to this Guest Flaunt.
My husband and I had consulted with teachers, psychologists, and even complete strangers in a “How to Tell Your Child About Asperger’s” parent support group, for advice on how to tell Henry about his diagnosis. Then one day last summer a camp director unknowingly took control of this moment. Using Henry’s own words, “Mom picked me up from pet camp and told me out of the blue that I had Asperger’s”.
Henry has enjoyed and attended (uneventfully) many local day camps with typically developing peers. This time we made a bad choice – a weeklong day camp with a very high camper to staff ratio, inexperienced camp counselors, and a director who lacked the willingness and flexibility to accommodate a child with differences. It did not matter that Henry is highly intelligent and succeeds academically in a mainstream school. He was different.
After the first day of camp, the camp director needed to talk to me. On day two, she asked what to do when Henry became distracted during large group activities. It became clear the director had no basic training in special education, too few camp counselors on staff, and little sensitivity. I suggested they offer Henry a book to read (he’s an avid reader) or allow him some time with the animals (he is passionate about animals, and this was a pet camp after all). On Thursday morning, the Camp Director called me again at work, this time asking me to pick up Henry and take him out of the camp. He had apparently walked into an adjacent room; they were now “afraid for his safety”. We were offered a refund for the last two days of camp.
I knew his untimely exit would require an explanation; Henry is quite astute, despite his Asperger’s. I called Henry’s Dad and let him know what we might have to do.
After saying our goodbyes (awkward), Henry asked, “Mom, why are you here, and why did you pick me up in the middle of camp?” This was the moment (thank you camp director), so right there, sitting in my car, I told our son he has Asperger’s. Henry was more prepared and poised than his parents. He asked two poignant questions “Do Other People Have It?” and “Is There a Cure?”
We suspect Henry already knew he had Asperger’s, but he just didn’t have a name for it. After all, Asperger’s is, and always will be, part of what makes Henry Henry.