Dear Camp Director…
By Beth Margolin
Sending your child with LD to camp for the first time can be stressful. Here’s how one mother of a 7-year-old child with NLD helped ensure a smooth transition to day camp by sharing helpful information with the staff.
Dear Camp Director,
Thank you for taking the time to talk with me back in December about my children, especially my older son Jeffrey, who will be attending your camp this summer. Jeffrey is a wonderful child, and I wanted to give you some more information about him and Nonverbal Learning Disabilities (NLD) to help ensure that he has a successful summer.
Jeffrey is really excited about camp this year. He can’t wait for archery, boating, ropes, nature, music, and golf, and he sees every day as an adventure. While he loves to try new things, traditional “ball sports” are difficult for him, particularly in a highly competitive atmosphere, because of the amount of coordination and energy required. However, he’ll be the biggest cheerleader of the group, rooting for everyone else. He also loves swimming, but his upper body strength is weak, and he mostly doggy paddles. He’ll do best in a small instructional group with a patient teacher, and at free swim he’ll be happy to bounce around in an area of the pool where he can stand.
To understand Jeffrey best, it is important to understand what NLD is. The name is deceiving, because Jeffrey is exceptionally verbal. Kids with NLD are usually extremely bright, like Jeffrey, with unbelievable verbal skills. Their deficits are in nonverbal skills such as watching people’s faces to see if their facial expressions and words match (the reason Jeffrey may not understand if a child is teasing him), or in sensory integration (the reason Jeffrey may seem overly distracted and unable to concentrate or focus in large groups of people). Following, I have outlined some issues NLD kids experience:
- Poor Social Skills. Jeffrey is a sweet, kind, and funny child. He wants friends, but often doesn’t know the right way to go about making them. While some children act out, that is not Jeffrey. He will fail to make eye contact, forget to say “hi” or turn his body away in a conversation, which makes the other person think he doesn’t want to be friends or is not paying attention. Please give Jeffrey an understanding counselor who will help him negotiate the social environment and make friends with the other boys.
- Poor Visual-Spatial Skills. This is a tough one to explain, but one of the key effects NLD has on Jeffrey is his difficulty holding pictures in his mind. This will affect everything from remembering faces to remembering how to get back to the pool from the music hall. Eventually, Jeffrey will get it, but while some kids only need a day or two to remember the kids’ names in their group, it may take Jeffrey two weeks. It would be helpful if his counselor could greet him off the bus the first week, because he will not remember his counselor’s face in a crowd, nor remember where he is supposed to go. In addition, saying aloud the names of the counselor and kids often, especially in smaller groups, will help him to remember who everyone is.
- Poor Sensory Motor Skills. I know you have had children with problems in this area, so I’ll just say that Jeffrey has low muscle tone, will tire easily, and will often get disoriented in large crowds. While I do not think Jeffrey will require an aide, I do think he will need special attention in the pool area, where there are so many children and there is so much going on, and at other times when multiple groups of children are congregating. As I mentioned to you on the phone, Jeffrey will always bring up the rear, though it doesn’t bother him, but he’ll need a patient counselor who doesn’t mind the extra time it might take for Jeffrey to get from Point A to Point B.
It’s important that the people working with Jeffrey understand his strengths as well as his needs, because he really is a bright and funny kid. His body may be slow and awkward, but his heart and mind are quite full and exceptional.
Finally, I’ll just add that my younger son, Dan is a typical, bright soon-to-be 5 year old, who is also excited about camp. This will be his first full-day experience, though, and he will not know other children. Please help him fit in, and I know he will do the rest just fine!
It would be great if I could bring Jeffrey and Dan by the camp prior to their start date. This will help Jeffrey get the lay of the land without the other children and will reduce any stress that he may have about starting camp. I’d like to call you in the beginning of June to try to set something up that would be convenient for all of us.
Thanks again for letting me share my sons with you. Feel free to call me with any questions or concerns.