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Mom tells autistic son's camp counselor, 'you must never let him lose at anything.'

Mom tells autistic son's camp counselor, 'you must never let him lose at anything.'

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"AITA for telling a parent that her autistic child shouldn't be at a sports camp?"

Fragrant-Cook6054

Throwaway because I'm probably the AH on this. I (20f) have coached a sports camp over the summer for the last several years at my local elementary school. The camp covers all sorts of sports and games for kids in elementary school to let them try many different sports and see which ones might stick.

This year, we've started an inclusion program for kids on the spectrum, where "inclusion specialists" work at our camp specifically to look after those kids and help them through the camp if they need it. I've really enjoyed this program and nothing is better than watching a kid find a sport they enjoy or excel at.

Fast forward to this week, the third week we're holding the camp, and enter Connor and his mother Sara (fake names obv). Connor is 10, on the older side for this camp, and when we first met him in the morning, he seemed like a pretty good kid to work with at a camp. The problem was his mother.

She pulled me aside before the day started to specifically tell me about what Connor needed. Turns out, Connor had pretty severe meltdowns and what triggered them was losing.

His mother asked me to make sure Connor never lost a game. This included his team never losing, letting him win all the races, making sure his team came first in the relays, never letting him get tagged in tag, and never letting him get eliminated in any sort of last-man-standing game.

I told her in no uncertain terms that I couldn't control that, and that was unfair to the other kids if I told them to always let him win. She was not happy about this and told me that they were trying to avoid meltdowns this week and that he was working on it, but losing was still incredibly emotional for him.

I told her that she really shouldn’t have sent him to a sports camp if she thought it would put him in distress or force all the other kids to cater to him. She asked me what the inclusion program was for. I told her it meant that I, as a coach, could help him and his inclusion specialist could help him, but the other kids weren’t a part of this inclusion program.

She left very angry. But she left Connor with us for the day, during which he had two meltdowns that the inclusion specialist dealt with, but I started feeling guilty. The whole point of the program was to allow kids like him to participate, but I didn’t want to sacrifice the other kids' experience just for him. So, AITA?

Edit: Thank you so much for your interactions, but here's a few quick details that I think got lost along the way! 1) This is not just a camp for neurodivergent kids, we brought a program in to integrate those kids in with the neurotypical kids.

Over the past three weeks, there's been about a 10:1 ratio of neurotypical to neurodivergent. 2) This is a pretty small camp (20-30 kids max) and my neighbor used to run this camp when I was in high school, but when I graduated he handed a lot of it over to me.

He now runs the financial, location, marketing, and legal stuff while I organize most of the camp itself along with a few other coaches, 2 of whom are still in high school, 2 in college. There isn't really a supervisor or higher up I can hand the mother over to except for the inclusion specialist. Hope this helps!

Edit 2 (sorry!): I don't hire the inclusion specialists, nor do I know exactly what they're qualified with, but they are working through a separate program outside our camp that we partnered with. They match the neurodivergent kids 1:1, and they are provided with all the information with the kids including lists of trigger and what calms them down.

They are all qualified adults (real adults not college students and high schoolers like the coaches) and as far as I could tell they handled Connor's meltdowns with a lot of patience and expertise and got him back to playing with the other kids within a half-hour or so after each inciting incident.

When I originally told Sara that the camp was likely not a good fit for Connor, I was more thinking about how the kid would be miserable in a cycle of meltdowns all day, and not about the qualifications of the inclusion program.

Here were the top rated comments from readers in response to the OP's post:

analyst19

NTA, but you need to loop in your supervisor. It’s not your call on who should and shouldn’t be in this camp.

Longwinded_Ogre

I don't want to live in a world where reasonably intelligent people are discouraged from making common sense observations.This lady was unreasonable. Telling her that she's unreasonable is reasonable.

Like no, the dude that has meltdowns when he loses shouldn't be signed up for an activity where he's going to lose at least 50% of the time. (Statistically it's likely to be more because there are "last man standing" events, and other activities with less than a 50% chance to win.

analyst19

It sounds like OP is in the USA. Persons with disabilities are a protected class in this litigious society. It’s true Connor probably shouldn’t be in this camp, but if OP says that then Sara might go to the court system, local news and Facebook, twitter and LinkedIn to destroy OP’s reputation.

AKlutraa

"Reasonable accommodation" is the standard in the USA for providing folks with disabilities opportunities to learn, work, play, etc. I sincerely doubt any US Court would rule that it's reasonable to require all other campers at the sports camp to lose all their games when this kid is on the other team.

Also, a kid who melts down when he's not on the winning side is also likely to blow up when other stuff doesn't go his way. E.g. the weather, the snacks, the seat he gets on the bus. Again, it's not reasonable for the camp staff to have to accommodate the kid's every preference in a group situation.

HortenseDaigle

Inclusion is tricky because it's meant to include a student (equal opportunity) at the same time expose the student to "real world" scenarios, like group settings, diverse stimuli and challenges.

Unless this student has other disabilities, a ten year old should be taught that "losing' is a part of the game and how to handle it. If the meltdowns aren't completely disruptive to the game/team, it's okay that he has them because it's part of the learning process. That's why he has an aide.

Irish_Whiskey

NTA but you did handle it wrong. You shouldn't have said that he shouldn't be at camp, you should have gotten the inclusion specialist to explain things. It was fine to tell her you cannot try to make him always win, but let the people who understand inclusion explain why.

"left Connor with us for the day, during which he had two meltdowns that the inclusion specialist dealt with"

Some kids for neurological/disability reasons are going to have meltdowns.

Teaching them how to handle their emotional volatility and engaging in strategies that let them express emotions safely and calm down IS inclusion. His mom's approach and request was unreasonable, but it sounds like the inclusion specialist knows what they're doing and handled it.

VisionAri_VA

NTA. What she wanted wasn’t inclusion; what she wanted was for her child to be catered to, to the point that every other child at the camp was an NPC to his main character.

And she’s doing him no favors, if she ever expects him to gain any measure of independence, because 90% of the world is not going to care about his triggers. That said, you were unnecessarily harsh; you should have passed her up the ladder to the people running the inclusivity program.

So, what do you think about this one? If you could give the OP any advice here, what would you tell them?

Sources: Reddit
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