We know what people will think when they see this: “What a shameless plug for HASC!”
And they will be right.
But no one at HASC asked us to write it. This column is just one small way to say thank you and give back just a little of what we feel we oweHASC – because of what they did forus and our son, Zev, this summer.
A few days ago, Zev, our 12-year old, came home from his first-ever full summer season at Camp HASC in Parksville, NY. For those who don’t know, the HASC Summer Program was started in 1963 to provide services to developmentally-delayed children and adults.
In Bergen County, we know many families with children who worked there, met their spouses there, and who send their developmentally-delayed children there. For us – who met at HASC and married–we have an inside joke about our two special needs siblings being our shadchanim.In our case, both of us had siblings as staff and campers in HASC over the past 25-30 years and felt close to HASC long before our son was born.
Having grown up with special needs siblings, as young adults and later, as young parents, we figured we knew it all when it came to the world of special needs. Having pushed wheelchairs, changed adult diapers, handled tantrumsas veteran HASC counselors and siblings of special needs adults, we thought there wasn’t much anyone could teach us about developmentally delayed people.But we were wrong. And our son, Zev, taught us that.
Zev is a sweet, handsome, outgoing boy who loves being around people (especially kids his own age, teens, and young adults). Heloves going to shul, loves singing and davening, and enjoys being treated like everyone else. His formal diagnosis has never been anything but “Global Developmental Delays” although we feel that he is partially autistic or “on the spectrum” as those in the field like to say. Over the last few years, his teachers have stopped promising us that he will one day learn to read and write and now focus on helping Zev master basic “daily living skills” such as dressing himself and personal grooming. Despite our being special needs “vets,” this prognosis was hard to accept—and it will always be hard to swallow. After all, we’re his parents, not his counselors.
Being told by well-meaning teachers and case managers that your healthy-seeming son will never learn to read and write is a direct hit to the gut. When you find out your child will never be able to absorb the basic tools required to function at even the most basic levels of society—that he won’t be able to sign his name or read directions—the most normal dreams parents have for their children vanish into thin air. He can never drive a car, read a book, finish school…We strugglestill to create new dreams to replace thoseshatteredby his diagnosis.
Zev currently attends the self-contained special-ed program atthe Benjamin Franklin Middle School in Teaneck and we feel blessed by the teachers he has.Before we sent Zev to HASC, he spent wonderful times at a3-week Yachad/OU summer program run in conjunction with Camp Nesher.But this year, we wanted Zev to have the benefit of a full summerexperience, yet sending him to HASC was not an easy choice for us to make.
We’dheard thatover the years, HASC had changed since we had been counselors 20 years ago and that it was now geared to campers with more profound developmental disabilities than Zev’s. By sending Zev to HASC, we would, in a sense, be admitting that our son Zev was more profoundly disabled than we cared to admit. We couldn’t bring ourselves to do that.
Then, since we’d had such positive associations with the camp as staff alums, it was hard for us to beexcited and motivated at the prospect of becoming HASC parents. After all, wasn’t a main goal of the camp to give overworked, exhausted, barely-able-to-cope parents a needed summer respite from their developmentally disabled child? Were we really going tobe like those HASC parents?Not us.
It was hard for us to accept that we would be going back to HASC, as parents this time around. It never occurred to us prior thatwe would return to HASC as anything other than proud staff alumni.
But after some deep thinking and late-night talks, we decided to take the plunge and apply. Zev was accepted, and in no time, it was time to go to camp.Now that he’s back home, by all accounts, he loved HASC from the minute he arrived,was a star camper(that did NOT surprise us!)and had a wonderful summer.We were never really worried about Zev while he was at camp. We knew he would love it. We also knew that he would be loved, and he was, indeed.
We remember our days as HASC counselors and hearing from our campers’ parents about how they were able to enjoy their summers differently without their special needs child; how they were able to do things that they simply could not do in the past. How different their home felt without their child in the house. How blessedly “normal” their lives were without their special child to have to worry about on a daily and hourly basis. Would we be such parents?
Now that the summer is over, we can be honest and confess:the answer is…yes.
We are now just like the parents we remember from our HASC days and we sound just like them, too.Zev came home looking happy, healthy, even a bit taller. Our summer experience was changed forever. Without question, our summer was better for every member of the family, and especially Zev. We were able to do a number of things that we were never able to do before as a full family and with both adults present—like going biking as a family. Our summer was calmer and less stressful than prior summers, when finding things for Zev to do occupied major portions of our daily routine.
Have we fully accepted our new status as HASC parents? Yes, we have. We’ve gotten over our initial misgivings. The benefits outweighed them all. And to HASC, we say thank you! We said thank you in person to Zev’sincredible counselors and thestaff who made the summer such a special one for us,but we want to say thank you again in print. Thank You! Thank you for turning us into proud HASC parents over the course of the summer. Now we are complete alumni of the total HASC family experience—from being staff, to our HASC shidduch and marriage, and becoming HASC parents. We proudly wear all of these titles…and are looking forward to next summer.