Adam is our third child — beautiful and brilliant, with an over-the-top intensity and BIG emotions. Before he turned three it became clear that Adam’s inability to rebound from little things like a pebble in his shoe, a spider in the shower, or tags in his clothing, were signs of problems to come. In preschool, he was diagnosed with Sensory Integration Dysfunction plus ADHD, and even for me, as a long-time professional in the disabilities world, Adam’s journey to inclusion has been an upward climb.
Everyone has dreams and goals for their children, but we Arnos are a Camp Barney Medintz family. Barney songs and Barney experiences are literally the languages we speak. So we had a singular dream for Adam — to get him to Barney and have it be for him the incredible summer place it has been for me, his brother Elliott and his sister Pearl.
Adam first spread his camp wings at age five at the MJCCA’s Alterman Day Camp. There, he had the daily support of a teenage facilitator. We backed off the need for a facilitator for the next three summers and finally, Adam was old enough to attend Barney. Through the Jewish Abilities Alliance, we knew the camp understood inclusion and was invested in his success. Jim Mittenthal, the Executive Director was firm with me: “Even if Adam only makes it for 3 days he’ll be a Barney alum for life!”
Adam not only completed the program, he has returned to camp for five summers. It has been a triumph for all of us who love him.
Last Spring, when my mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and plans were underway for our daughter Pearl to become a bat mitzvah, I hatched an idea for Adam and Pearl share their b’nai mitzvah at camp. Jim Mittenthal came through again. “Inclusion is what camp should be about,” he told me and worked diligently to make it an authentic Jewish ritual. Adam and Pearl read their Torah portions and gave speeches before the entire camp community. My son, who for years wouldn’t look you in the eye, stood up before 600 people and told how Camp Barney made him feel Jewish and gave him the confidence to succeed.
Here’s what I know deep in my bones: Every child deserves the dignity of risk. We cannot protect our kids from everything, so we have to let them try, and fail, and try again and again until they ultimately succeed. Inclusion isn’t a “program,” it’s a philosophy. Programs cost money, but inclusion is a mindset that doesn’t have to cost a thing. When we open our arms and our minds to inclusion, our hearts open too.