Posted by: sonewjersey | September 15, 2011

Our Best Summer…So Far

Today’s guest post is by a mom whose son, Leo, attended Camp Shriver at  Special Olympics New Jersey for the first time this past summer.

by Angela Jacobs

Leo playing baseball

I wish that school went year-round, or at least further into the summer, like by a month. For years I tried to do the lazy summer thing at our local pool, but my kids seemed to fall apart by the end of summer in a sea of endless tantrums. I started looking for summer day camps. My kids need their routines and friends.

I have two kids. My daughter is a typical nine-year-old and I also have an eight-year-old son who is not so typical.  It’s easy to find camps that my daughter likes. I peruse the Internet and at least ten jump out at me. We sit down and she gets to pick five. She likes variety, so we do a mash-up between a catch-all camp that does a bit of everything, drama, science, nature, and gymnastics  camps. She’s a kid in a proverbial candy store.

My son’s options are much more limited. Over the years, I had tried out several typical camps but they didn’t go so well for him. He’s prone to wandering, meltdowns, has significant speech delays, misses most social cues, and is super impulsive. He likes to throw out words to sound funny but they are things like “idiot” and “dummy.” He even likes to hit kids on their butts to be funny. Yeah, that doesn’t go over too well.

This year my son’s best friend was going to Camp Shriver, a summer camp run by Special Olympics New Jersey. In fact, she likes to say she’s his girlfriend, thank you very much. For just a nine-year-old, she is quite the vixen and was very clear that my son needed to join her at this camp.

So, with some hesitation, I took a look at it. First off, it was free, which is pretty much amazing right there. Second, it was going to expose him to four different sports. It sounded fantastic but, it was, well, Special Olympics. I mean, this was an organization for intellectually disabled kids and adults. Not that I knew the profile of the typical camper but my kid is funny, silly, and even a little sarcastic! Were intellectually disabled people funny? My son’s “girlfriend” is funny, charming and adorable, and oh yeah, apparently she is intellectually disabled.

But hey, I was still holding out hope that he would magically “catch up” to his peer age group! I wasn’t exactly ready to think of him as “intellectually disabled.” By registering him, would I be giving up on him or giving him an opportunity? What would it really, really mean anyway if he WAS intellectually disabled?

Thankfully, the choice was somewhat made for me (I tend to over-think things) by my son and his “girlfriend.” She wasn’t taking no and he actually did want to go. So, I signed him up and held my breath.

At the end of his first day I stood in a long line to sign him out. Over ninety kids were registered and it was a madhouse of parents, grandparents and siblings waiting for their campers. Adults talked easily, as many knew each other from the year-round Special Olympics sports program. Having a kid with special needs can be isolating and here was this community, waiting for us, if we wanted.

I took a few steps forward and finally it was my turn. I told two adorable college-aged counselors my son’s name and they called for him in their microphone. Minutes later, out he came, beaming. It took him a while to reach me because there were hugs and high-fives to give to counselors and fellow campers but finally he came to me and then kept right on walking without so much as a glance up. There were too many high-fives and good-byes to give on the way to the car. I tagged after, asking how his day was and did he have fun but not until the car did he really answer me. Casually, I asked for the last time, “So did you have fun?” At this point he had picked up one of his books in the backseat, and said “yeah!” like I had said “Duh!” in the eighth grade.

It’s been several weeks since his first day and he loves this camp. Love doesn’t even capture it. He runs into the camp at full speed. He talks about his new buds all of the time. He knows everyone there and he shows off his new sports skills every day. This is his best summer by far and I am grateful.

Whether he “catches up” or not is out of my hands. What is in my control is that I will register him into a Fall sport through Special Olympics New Jersey because I have never seen him so happy and I think both of us could use the community that they are willing to give to us.





  1. Camp Shriver was an amazing experience! It is just peace of mind knowing there is a place for our kids to go, enjoy themselves, learn, see old friends, and make new ones. SONJ offers kids with intellectual disabilities a place to participate in activities, teams, and fitness for life. A place to feel like they belong and can be a valuable member of something. It teaches them commitment and teamwork – and at a much younger age than their typical counterparts have that opportunity. Well written Angela!

  2. I loved your article Angela! Very poignant and well-written! Thanks for sharing it!

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