This past summer, I was a volunteer counselor for the second year in a row at Camp Kulam, a two week day camp program at the JCC for kids with special needs ages 4-18. During my time at Kulam, I worked with the 8-12 year olds. At the time Camp Kulam rolled around this past summer, I had been volunteering at the JCC’s Center for special needs for over a year, both in their camp and their year round programs.I had gotten to know many of the teens in the program, so when I found out that I was not placed with them this past summer, I was honestly slightly disappointed. I had developed a strong bond with these kids over the past year, and I was looking forward to spending more time with them over the summer. I had to remind myself that I was not here for me, I was here for the participants in this program, and that any campers were wonderful campers.
Some children were fairly high functioning, able to talk and play all day, and have conversations on a level that is similar to those of a typically developing child. While other children were completely non-verbal, and relied solely on hand gestures and incoherent noises as their form of communication. This past summer, I was working with more non verbal kids than I ever had in the past, which truly put my communication skills to the test. This challenge, while admittedly frustrating at times, also bettered my understanding of autism, and forced me to become a better communicator and counselor. I developed a particularly close connection with one of my campers, Harry, who was very low functioning, which led to my placement in his class in my work at the JCC over the academic year.
What started out as an on a whim agreement to volunteer for two weeks during the summer of 2014 turned into a much longer commitment, and ultimately led me to strongly considering going into special education in the future. I highly encourage anybody interested in children and education to consider branching out from the typically developing world, and into a special education program. The incredible connections and genuine compassion of the kids I work with has greatly outweighed any frustrations and challenges I’ve faced, and I know, come June, I’ll be very sad to have to leave.