Faces of Carson

Breezes, blue sky and barefoot weather. It was as though summertime itself was staying up all night talking with Frank, until she had to go–helping him get the very most out of this vacation. Even though school was starting in two days, it seemed like a perfect early July day. It smelled like happiness out there.

Frank usually hated summer. He was entering eleventh grade. For the first time, this fall, he’d be able to understand his classmates’ universal grumble about their return. Frank had always loved the order and predictability of school, with its bells and strict schedules and rules. He’d always been the first one in school to get on the Fast Math Hall of Fame. Fast Math was a computer program that tested individual student’s mastery of their year’s associated math functions. Third graders worked on multiplication, for example, and had all year to do so. In May of every year, hardworking kids’ names would appear on the Hall of Fame, which featured the first five kids in each grade who mastered their math early. Every year, Frank’s name was up there on the Hall of Fame by the end of the first week of school.

There were plenty of other things for Frank to focus on learning at school. He was shaken to the core by his struggle  with the complex set of unwritten social interactions that appeared in middle school. There was Sarcasm 101 and Gender Role Expectations 201; Subtle Cues 102 and Metaphor 300. As a teen with Asperger’s Syndrome, Frank had failed all the classes of this invisible social curriculum. His old friends laughed at him and went to their sports after school and their parties without him. 

He hated parties and sports, anyway. Yet though he loved his projects and his solitude, Frank didn’t want to be alone all the time. For a few years, it helped hanging out with kids who were a lot younger than he was, because the social expectations were familiar and easy, as in, “Want to play chess?” But as an older teen, he didn’t blend in so easily anymore.

When Frank’s mom insisted he go to Carson’s Kamp for Kids for the summer, he was mortified. Wasn’t that for little kids? They had promised, she said, to find something for him.

When Frank arrived, he made a mental note of the way everything was organized. He paid attention to the routines. He was immediately relieved by the atmosphere. Carson staff talked to him as though he were his own age, not younger. But they also explained things to him that most people don’t, like what exactly was going to happen next and what was expected of him. Teens and adults usually wait and figure that all out by themselves, as they read social interactions silently and figure out their role. Frank knew this was the way it was out in the world. It exhausted him emotionally, and often made him feel aggressive.

But at Carson’s Kamp, he never felt exhausted in that way. When a staff member misplaced her attendance clipboard one day, Frank knew where she had placed it down when she was picking up her relay cones, because she always placed it there. He knew her routine. He told her where it was.

When she retrieved it, she looked at Frank and asked him if he wanted to take attendance for her. He began reciting aloud who was absent and who had been absent, each day, all week. It was the kind of thing Frank remembered.

“I’m sorry, Frank, I meant, do you want to do this as a job here? Would you like to write it down and turn it in at the office?”

He took the clipboard and the new role. That day he also began setting up for activities, and then breaking them down. By the end of the summer, he was helping the younger kids in their activities, explaining and demonstrating things the way he knew they needed him to. On his last day, Carson staff asked him if he’d return the following year as a staff intern. 

The summer was still warm and lingering for Frank. It smelled like happiness out there.

by JAC Patrissi

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