On the first day of camp my Director told me about a new camper that was going to be in my huddle this summer. His name was Silas Dodge. Silas was in the second grade and it was explained to me that he had Autism, he was extremely shy, and sensitive to loud and unfamiliar sounds. I had never been exposed to autism in this capacity before. I was a little scared. Our special needs Head Counselor said he was shy, may be reluctant to speak to new people and could be difficult to engage. Silas spent the first couple of hours looking at the gym floor. He wouldn’t sing the songs or take part in any of the games. No matter how much I enticed him, the best I could get was a mere glance or a headshake. As the day went on, I noticed that when I would call his name, he did not seem to be fond of being called “Silas”; so I asked him “Do you want me to call you Silas?” He whispers “Dodge” He told me that he would like me to call him Dodge. So Dodge it was. Dodge would let his hair grow out so he could put his head down and his hair would cover his face. When his dad picked him up, I gave him a rundown of the day and asked what Silas liked, what his interests were. “Legos,” he told me. “Legos are the key.”
The next week, I was ready. I talked to my Director and asked for a box of Legos just for Silas. As soon as Silas saw the box of Legos, he lit up. And as soon as he opened his mouth, the words tumbled out and didn’t stop coming. He started telling me all about famous landmarks that he had built using Legos before like the Statue of Liberty, Big Ben, the Golden Gate Bridge and the Eiffel Tower. We built these landmarks, drew these landmarks and talked about the landmarks all day long. Often, I’d convince him to join the rest of the huddle in an activity without Legos and he’d make the other kids laugh like crazy. He would tell super interesting facts about the Eiffel Tower that would blow us all away. He was absolutely brilliant!
I worked with Silas for the entire summer, five days a week. When I close my eyes, I can still hear his little laugh. I think about the lessons Silas taught me almost daily, although sometimes I don’t exactly do a great job of remembering to act with his grace and positivity. He taught me that everyone is fighting some type of battle. He showed me how to be positive, to take the cards you’re dealt and do what you can. He taught me that I could be sensitive, that I could learn how to meet another person and accept them with their own specific needs. And Silas also taught me that leaving a legacy is sometimes as simple as making a friend.
Autism is not for the faint of heart. It requires a level of compassion, patience and love that can only be felt. While the road is filled with unpredictable plot twists, setbacks and frustrations, it is with a brimming heart that I say autism is exactly what I never knew I needed to experience. Silas is my ultimate teacher in how to live and lead, daring greatly, in life and love. He has taught me how to love myself and others for who we are, to appreciate the little things in life, celebrate the minute successes in daily living, and turn inward to find truth, strength and hope. It’s a wild ride, but I am eternally grateful I get to live it.