It’s been a week since we returned from summer camp, and Joseph is only now coming to appreciate all that he has accomplished. Our troop is exemplary in following the Boy Scout program, and summer camp is as much a time for making great strides in rank advancement as it is in having fun. Every day begins at 6 A.M. with wake-up, a 7 A.M. Polar Bear Swim in the pool, followed by breakfast, and programming that runs from 9-12 where scouts work on merit badges, rank advancement, and do service projects in the camp. Lunch from 12-1, Instructional swimming or siesta from 1-2, more programming from 2-5, Retiring the Colors at 5:30 P.M., followed by dinner and open programming (swimming, rifle & archery range, boating, etc) from 7-9. Campfire and night meeting from 9-10, and then lights out.
I LOVE this generation of boys. We have a boy who is profoundly hard of hearing who misplaced his hearing aids during horsing around with water. They all stopped what they were doing and tore the camp apart searching for the missing hearing aids (cost: $4,000) They were about to uproot trees before the aids were found. Later that night at campfire this boy, with his speech impediment, led the entire troop in a silly song. All sang loud and applauded this boy even louder! As one of the assistant scoutmasters commented to me:
“Where else could a kid like Mike (name changed) stand up and lead 52 other boys in a stupid song and be applauded, instead of ridiculed?!”
I answered with something that I’ve said here before, that this is the result of mainstreaming these children in our schools and in our troops. When this mainstreaming is combined with the Scout Oath, the lived reality becomes more beautiful than words can adequately describe.
I was in charge of thirteen first year scouts, including Joseph, and shepherding them through the first year, Pathfinder, program. The merit badges, ranks, and certification badges earned by Joseph at Summer Camp appear on this page. The program allowed him to complete the remainder of requirements he needed to advance to Second Class, and then to First Class (half-way to Eagle).
Additionally, he and his fellow Pathfinders worked hard at demonstrating proficiency at using a knife, axe, and saw efficaciously and safely and received their certification to use these tools without supervision. No small feat for 11 and 12 year-olds.
They also trained, practiced and demonstrated proficiency at building fires safely and efficaciously and received their certification to do that as well. These are indispensable qualifications for boys who camp out monthly. They build autonomy and responsibility at an early age, which in turn are the prerequisites for them to grow into and exert leadership roles as they advance in age and rank.
As with much high achievement, it takes some time for one to look back and realize all that has been accomplished. A twelve year-old boy has managed to complete the remaining half of the lengthy requirements to advance two ranks, earn three merit badges, two certifications in woodland skills, get elected patrol leader of his group for one of the daily slots, advance his swimming skills, shoot a rifle and bow and arrow, and live in the woods for a week.
Most of all he went boating on the lake one cool evening with his father who will cherish forever those two hours on the water where this twelve year-old spoke his young and tender heart about his hopes and fears, his aspirations and apprehensions, his joys and desires. He spoke with a clarity and level of insight that his father would not be able to muster until his late twenties.
I am amazed and humbled by Joseph and his peers. Humbled beyond description by their drive, their focus, and their charitable forebearance with other boys’ weaknesses. I’m also heartened that we have a brighter future with these young men. They get it. What is most extraordinary about Joseph and his accomplishments in light of his autism is that there is nothing extraordinary about Joseph and his accomplishments in light of his autism. Thousands and thousands of children on the autism spectrum accomplish high achievement in academics, sports, scouting, you name it. As we inch closer to prenatal diagnostic tools for autism, parents need to know of the Joseph’s among us, and that they are the rule for autism, not the exception.
Eight years ago, Regina and I embraced Joseph’s autism in the midst of absolute terror for his future prospects and uncertainty in our abilities to be equal to the task before us. But then we discovered the rich community of professionals who are there to take these children under their wings. They have worked miracles.
Yes, it requires a different sort of parental involvement and approach, a more intense focus. Worth it? Look at the badges on this page. They were earned following the same requirements as all other boys are held to. And…
Those two hours in that rowboat were like the Apostles’ experience on the mountain during the Transfiguration. They were a validation of the past eight years, and God’s promise for Joseph’s future.