Finding places where Griffin can learn and grow has always been a challenge. Social groups for those with special needs have been a wonderful place for him to learn. But he also needs to be in situations that aren’t a controlled environment. Griffin isn’t just a person with special needs, he’s also a typical teenager. He needs a safe place where he can learn, where people understand his uniqueness. This is not an easy task.
I’ve been working on this piece for a while now. I’ve experienced so many emotions and I wanted to make sure that I wouldn’t be coming from a place of anger when I shared.
So here goes:
This past summer Griffin attended a teen camp at our local “Y”. We were so excited and hopeful. The camp would be focusing on teaching the campers skills to help them become a camp counselor.
Things were going really well until Griffin came home and started sharing some interactions he was having with some of the other campers.
The incidences involved Griffin being called “creepy” for staring and for complimenting a girl’s swimsuit. He made the comment because he actually liked her suit and remembered her from last years summer camp. He was also told “I can’t wait for you to go to jail” by a fellow camper.
I mentioned all of this to the camp director and to the youth director. I even told them that these things might have happened due to something Griffin said or did that the other campers might not have understood. I was told that the campers shouldn’t have said those things to Griffin and that they would take care of it. I was really hoping that this would not only be a learning opportunity for Griffin to understand others but for others to have a chance to understand Griffin.
Each day we would check in with Griffin. I stayed in contact with the camp but soon realized the quality we had come to expect was not happening.
The kids were allowed to have and use their cellphones and gaming devices despite there being a rule that these items were not allowed to be used during the camp hours.
Because of the things some of the kids were saying, Griffin became worried that someone was going to film him and then put it on YouTube. This fear was based on things he had seen on television. (I can’t imagine being a kid in this day and age).
Even though there were some challenges socially, Griffin would talk about having friends. He began talking about a girl (we’ll call her Maya), and how they both loved classical music.
But his inability to “read” people made him vulnerable. When Griffin is feeling strong emotions he often has a hard time expressing himself. He has difficulty with figurative and literal concepts which can lead to misunderstandings. An example of this might be him saying he wants to die. He doesn’t really want to die but his emotions are so strong that someone that doesn’t know him and his special needs might become very concerned. Once you talk it through with him, he’ll say “Oh, no I don’t want to die, I just feel stupid.” Even though Griffin can communicate in a traditional way, communicating his emotions is still a real challenge for him.
In an attempt to connect with Maya he shared that he sometimes feels really sad and doesn’t like himself. And that he wishes he was never born. He also shared that he doesn’t always get along with his parents. He didn’t understand that saying these type of things to someone, especially another kid, might make them worried.
Before I go any further I want to let everyone reading this know that Griffin has an amazing team of professionals that are helping him work through moments that are related to Aspergers and those related to being a typical teenager.
In this moment of sharing with his new friend, Griffin was just having a typical teenager conversation. The kind where you share with a friend your feelings, knowing you have a safe space to do so. These are moments we all have had as teenagers and moments we continue to have as adults.
Maya, out of concern, decided to share with her parents what Griffin had told her.
That evening I received a call from the now former Youth Director of the “Y.” She told me how a fellow camper’s parents had called to let her know about the conversation between their daughter and Griffin. Somehow they thought Griffin might hurt himself and it was also reported that based on the conversation Griffin might be in an abusive relationship with a parent.
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I reminded that director of Griffin’s special needs and that he had a team of experts working with him, that this was all a misunderstanding. That Griffin doesn’t always understand. I mentioned again the other incidences that had taken place since camp had started and that one of Griffin’s challenges was social interactions. She said she understood and made it sound like she just had to let me know and not to worry.
I immediately reached out to his team. They all said not to worry and that they would do whatever was needed to help. I was told that it was probably going to have to be reported to DCYS, the department of child and youth services.
Tom and I were shaken, some of our worst fears were happening. The fear of something Griffin said being misunderstood. The fear of our parenting being questioned and having to be investigated. We live in a world we’re were always questioning if we’re doing enough for Griffin. If he’s getting everything he needs to thrive. The simplest thing, like signing up for a class, requires a lot of preparation and trust.
I can’t blame the girl for telling her parents, she was just doing what she thought was right.
I was angry and frustrated at the camp and how things had reached this point. I had worked hard to communicate with the camp things that might happen and how important it was for those working with him to have as much information about him and his needs.
The fact that a counselor was never aware of any of the things that were happening was concerning. And when they were made aware it was treated like it was no big deal.
I was also really disappointed. We had had such success with the other “Y” programs Griffin had been involved with, we really believed that would continue.
We waited to see if a case manager would show up from DCYS. We were told that if they did it would be unannounced.
I tried to get updates from the camp but was told they couldn’t say anything. I was hoping to be able to sit down with the parents and child who Griffin spoke with in hopes to help them understand Griffin but that wasn’t possible.
We were concerned that further misunderstandings would happen and at the recommendation of his team we had him skip the last two days of camp. When I told Griffin he asked “Is it because of what I said?” I was heartbroken but answered him truthfully. I let him know he didn’t do anything wrong. It was complicated and that we would work through it. He was confused and wasn’t sure why his friend thought he had a parent that was hurting him.
Exactly two weeks after the call, it happened.
Griffin was just finishing up his ABA therapy when I heard a knock at the door. I thought it was a package delivery. As his therapist, Ashley, was wrapping up, I answered the door. But it wasn’t UPS, it was a woman that at first I thought was going to try and sell me something. I was just about to say “I’m not interested” when she said “Hello, my name is Roseline. I’m from the department of child and family services.”
I froze. She had to ask if she could come in. I turned to Griffin’s therapist and asked if she could please stay. Thankfully she was able to. Ironically we had just been talking about when or if a case manager would be coming right before Roseline arrived.
Still nervous and trying to process things I led Roseline into the house. Once again she had to ask me a question, “Is it okay if I sit?” I told her of course and then more questions followed.
She was kind and realized quickly that there was no need to be concerned. Griffin was able to answer her questions. Having a member of Griffin’s team present made the process go smoothly.
I asked what the next step would be and Roseline told me that there was nothing else that would be happening because she felt Griffin was receiving everything he needed. She even complimented our parenting and the amount of support Griffin was receiving.
When Roseline left, because I was still shaken, I asked Ashley if I had acted alright. She smiled and said “You were you, Missy.” I think that was a good thing 🙂
As things settled down we tried to see the positive things that came out of all of this.
We realized that Griffin was given a learning opportunity to understand what it means to share his feelings in an appropriate manner. It also helped him and his talk therapist start working on the big emotions adolescence brings.
For Tom and I, we learned that as scary as it is, it’s important to keep providing Griffin with opportunities to interact with others.
I’m concerned that by sharing this moment I’m adding to the confusion and misunderstanding of what Aspergers means to our family. But I realize that it’s important to keep sharing because in the end I believe it will actually bring more understanding and awareness.