This summer I’ve been working at Apex Summer Camp at the UW Autism Center in Seattle, WA. Apex is designed to support kids with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and other related disorders. The camp operates using a point system to provide immediate positive and negative reinforcement for behaviors. The points (combined with positive social reinforcement from counselors) reward behaviors like helping, sharing, and contributing while de-incentivizing behaviors like aggression, destruction of property, and name-calling. It’s a clinical program and yet in many ways it is just like any other summer camp. We play sports, board games, have dance parties, go on field trips, and on special occasions get to dump water on counselors. But most importantly, we play a truly unbelievable amount of hangman, seriously there’s a bunk-wide infatuation with the game that I will never completely understand.
As I’m writing this I’ve just finished the last day of camp and I feel at a loss for words. My work this summer has been challenging, wonderful, surprising, nerve-wracking, heart-melting, and like 18 other adjectives. Camp was only five weeks and yet so much has happened, so many fun and adorable moments and just as many painful, yet character-building ones. Before camp started our leadership team told us to assume that everyone is doing their best and working their hardest. That’s a philosophy that has been easy to incorporate into my life because, especially at Apex, it is so unquestionably true. I’ve seen my coworkers handle countless difficult situations calmly and effectively, spend hours trying to find new and better ways to support the kids, and come to work day after day with more energy and enthusiasm than I thought possible. I’ve watched the kids struggle so hard to calm themselves down when things don’t go their way, start conversations with peers and counselors, and so many other behaviors that many people (myself included) often take for granted.
As the 14 kids in my bunk bounced excitedly across our classroom to get their diplomas today I felt so much pride for our kids and my coworkers. It’s been a difficult five weeks for everyone, but it was worth every early morning, every late night, and every stress dream. I hope that our support, encouragement, and tough love helped (at least in a small way) prepare the kids for the many challenges, expectations, and responsibilities that life will place on them. I’m so beyond grateful for this experience and to the Whitman Internship Grant for making this possible.
Experiences like Anne Elise’s are made possible by the Whitman Internship Grant, which provides funding for students to participate in unpaid internships at both for-profit and non-profit organizations. To learn how you could secure a Whitman Internship Grant or host a Whitman intern at your organization, click here or contact Assistant Director for Internship Programs Victoria Wolff