Our vacations typically consist of visiting my hubby’s side of the family on the east coast. Other than the flight stress for Camden (which is no bueno), a good time is had by all (unless a stomach virus hits…but even then, it’s still greatness). We send our grocery list to my mother-in-law (per her suggestion) a week or two before we leave, and she shops for all of Camden’s food since he is on a special diet. My sister-in-law is superhuman and has the house spic-n-span, all the eye-candy put away, toys ready, library books checked out, sleeping quarters arranged, etc. The lady amazes me. Most of the family typically has all or most of the time off from work and school when we are there. And then…they just kind of follow our lead (and of course, attend to their daily lives as well). We’ve started branching out more and doing excursions to Hershey Park, the lake, the beach, train museums, etc.. They see and try to understand Camden’s likes and dislikes, his need for structure, and his struggles with some anxiety. And they try to roll with it. They are supportive of me and Brian. We all want Camden (as well as our little guy) to experience new things, and with their support, we are able to. Mainly, it’s like camp for me. Camp Debbie, (that’s my SIL) as I call it. Here are several collages from our trip this summer:
There are a lot of swell people in my hubby’s family. (*For the record, there is a lot of love and support from my side as well, but this is a post about Brian’s side, and the Swing Fore Camden fundraiser.) I could tell you about how my Occupational Therapist sister-in-law and my elementary, PE teacher (who also does adaptive PE), brother-in-law, unknowingly signed up for the same autism class for their continuing education credits…or how my brother-in-law buys special toys/books for Camden from the book people that come to his school…or how my mother-in-law prays for us, believes in what we do, and strives to understand what we go through…or about how interested my aunt is to talk about various treatments or share stories about her other little friends with autism…or about how my sister-in-law with fibromyalgia will spin Camden to his heart’s delight…or about how my brother and sister-in-law are fostering to adopt a boy with Cerebral Palsy and high-functioning autism…or the accessible, over-the-top, amazing playground that my brother-in-law helped make happen at his church…or how the big and little cousins try to connect with Camden by sharing his interests…or how my father-in-law gets emotional when he talks about how his oldest grandchildren (our niece and nephew) organized and executed this incredible fund-raising event to support Camden. Two summers ago, they had a surprise for us the night we arrived. Here’s how our niece, Kaila, shared it on the event page:
The Family’s Reaction: One week after the Swing Fore Camden tournament, we were able to see Camden and the family. The evening we saw them, we sat down in the living room and gave them a folder. They had no idea what was in the folder and had no idea that exactly one week ago about 70 people gathered in support of them. They opened the folder to find the flyer from last year, some pictures from the outing, and a check written out to Camden. Completely surprised and nearly speechless with tears filling their eyes. In short, they said it meant more than they could explain, knowing they have a small army fighting for them and that the financial support from the outing was just a bonus! They hope one day in the future they can bring Camden to the outing to show their love and appreciation!
Of course the financial help was such a wonderful surprise, but more than anything was the love that went into it. This 17 and 20 year old (at the time) were sitting around and came up with this idea of how they could help Camden. I think I was a bit more shallow and self-focused at that age. They planned, organized, and executed a really neat event.
This June, Kaila and Kai, hosted the 2nd Swing Fore Camden golf tournament. Here’s a short message that we shared (as well as Camden’s end of school letter) on the event page to let contributors know what their funds went toward.:
We are so grateful to Kaila, Kai, and all of you for being involved in this fundraiser for our sweet Camden!! SO wish we could be there. A couple of weeks ago, Camden said his first prayer by himself. It went like this: “Dear God, Thank You for Jesus and golf carts. In Jesus’ name, Amen.” For real! =) We attend a good-sized church and always park far from the building so that we can ride the golf carts. It brings great joy to the boy! Last year’s Swing Fore Camden was such a surprise to our family. The money raised helped Camden attend a summer ABA and social skills program, receive weekly speech and occupational therapy, pay for vitamins and supplements, eat good nutritious food, etc. Your contribution made all the difference! Thanks to everyone for your support!
Why do I share all of this? I am grateful for a supportive family. Sadly, it is not uncommon for the extended members of a special needs family to distance themselves, say cruel things, not be involved, etc. Life can be lonely. Autism or not. It’s nice to have a cheering squad for this journey. If you are limited on funds, perhaps it will encourage you to think outside the box. I recall being really bummed early on that we didn’t have a ton of money to get Camden more help. Since then, I’ve learned to grant-write, we’ve had to prioritize treatments/therapies, we’ve started Counting on Hope, people like Kaila, Kai and others have been gracious, etc.
I have this super-special autism-mama friend. I call her the Fundraising Beast. In ONE 3-day weekend, she coordinated a garage sale, organized a Zumba-thon, and walked SIXTY-EIGHT miles to raise money to help her boys. That’s pretty amazing! She inspires me to not give up. Where there’s a will, there’s a way!
Here are a few photos from the Swing Fore Camden tournament:
I asked Kaila and Kai if they’d answer a few questions for me regarding Camden and autism. They complied. =) For the record, Kaila is 21 and Kai is 18.
How has Camden, and his autism, impacted you?
(Kaila) Camden and his autism has impacted me in ways I can explain and in some ways that I can’t. This 6 year old superhero has taught me things in ways that no one else could, and I promise you he still will. Camden has taught me so much about perspective and purpose. We have had many bonding moments together, but here is something I think of every time we are together. During each of those moments, I sit there and wonder what he might be feeling or going through, what he wants, what he likes, or what he needs. I always ask him, “What are ya thinking little buddy?”, trying to put myself in his shoes. Ultimately, I want him to know he is loved and will always be taken care of because all of those things matter. This is what Jesus wants all of us to do on a daily basis for those around us, and he is reminding me through Camden. Camden has also been able to show me that I have an extra patience and drive for people with special needs. I fully believe God gives us our specific passions so we can serve in unique ways. Camden sparked that passion in me and helped me realize that it needs to be utilized. He opened the door to my future careers in Adapted P.E., Psychology, and different types of art and music therapies.
(Kai) Camden has made me not only more aware, but also much more passionate for those who have special needs. I have never felt the want/need to help somebody more than Camden. He has given me a drive that has never been so strong in my life to make a difference in somebody else’s life.
What prompted you to do this fundraiser:
(Kaila) At our house, my family and I could sit around for hours in the living room sprawled out on the sofas talking about anything under the sun. One day after the family was Texas bound, we realized the support didn’t have to stop there. We stared brainstorming when Mom, of course, threw out the idea of a golf outing. Her ideas are the best. Simple as that, Kai (my brother) and I went for it. We knew it would be an easy, fun, right-up-our alley kind of fundraiser. Yes, it took time calling for different prices, dates, first time questions, planning, etc., but it was beyond worth it for the little guy and the family. It’s what we’re here for.
(Kai) After we had already been considering raising money for Camden, we had heard Uncle Brian say he couldn’t spend the money to get his air conditioning fixed in his truck; we can only imagine how brutal that is in Texas. We also always try to comprehend the great amount of effort that Aunt Candace, Uncle Brian, and even Carson put forth to fulfill Camden’s needs. The last week I saw Carson he was quizzing Camden on his words. “Say gwapes (grapes) Camden”. We know that we can’t always be there for Camden like his parents, so we decided to try to help out financially. I have never felt so sure about doing something for someone in my life.
As Camden’s family member, what do you see as one of the greater challenges of his autism?
(Kaila) Camden can express himself but not in the most understandable way for some people. “Okay-no” meant “okay” to me when I asked him if he needed to use the bathroom. When he started saying “no…bye..” I was confused. If it weren’t for mom and dads translation, I would have been very lost that whole visit. Apparently, “okay-no” meant “not at all.” Even though autism is becoming more prevalent, people are still not as aware as Camden would need them to be. That is the challenge. Honestly, I knew nothing about autism compared to what I do now that Camden is in my life. My aunt, from the other side of the family, went up to Camden at Christmas to say hello and talk. Camden, being verbally limited, didn’t say a whole lot. She walked away saying, “Well, you’ve got a lot to say (with a sense of humor); have fun on your iPad.” It makes me smile knowing the both of them, because you have to be humorous sometimes, but at the same time it is sad. It’s sad knowing not everyone understands Camden. When you look at him, he is the most precious little thing with no distinct physical characteristics of a disability. To me, that seems like the big challenge. Hopefully this communication barrier is broken or at least understood more as we promote autism Awareness. Hopefully the kid seen having a melt down in a public place is understood with that and the family that is with him is shown love and empathy.
(Kai) I think one of Camden’s greatest challenges is communicating with others. It is an obvious one but I don’t want to specify it to just verbal communication because I think he communicates with our family pretty well. We usually know what he wants when he talks to us but if he were asking somebody who didn’t know Camden I’m not so sure they would understand like we do.
You guys are all really great about connecting with Camden. It’s not that easy for a lot of people. If someone came to you and shared the following, what advice or encouragement would you give? “My cousin/nephew/grandson was recently diagnosed with autism. Sometimes it seems like he’s in his own little world. I want to play and connect with him, but I am not even sure where to start. Any ideas?”