An incredible thing happened this summer to my 15 year old son, Joey. Unbelievably, he went white water rafting for the very first time. Now, you’re probably thinking, “What’s the big deal? Plenty of kids go white water rafting – nothing incredible or unbelievable about it.” Let me explain…
Joey has a diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome, a high-functioning form of Autism, which, along with other deficits, can affect an individual’s sensory integration abilities resulting in a range of sensory sensitivities. To put it simply, Joey hates getting water splashed in his face or the sensation of wet clothing. When he was younger, one drop of liquid on his shirt meant its immediate removal (public or private domains), regardless of whether another one was available to replace it.
Today, he strongly (and I emphasize, STRONGLY) prefers bathing over showering, to avoid the spray of water in his face. So, now that you know Joey’s relationship with water (splashed, sprayed, sprinkled, or otherwise), you can understand the significance of his first rafting experience (and might I add, a Facebook picture confirming a grin from ear to ear). It wasn’t just BIG. It was HUGE! For this ‘first’ and numerous other ‘firsts’, our deep appreciation and thanks goes to Aryeh United.
Last January, I received an e-mail describing this brand new travel camp with the goal of integrating high-functioning special needs teens with typical teens for a 10 day adventure to America’s South. I was thrilled. I was ecstatic. I would have cartwheeled across my living room if I could. What a potentially perfect opportunity for Joey! Our human GPS who loves geography, maps and anything mass transit, to actually GO to the places he constantly reads about ….. this was nothing short of amazing!
I contacted Yoni Glatt immediately and a short time afterwards, Joey was interviewed and accepted. I can tell you that for the next 6 months (the trip was at the end of August) all Joey would talk about was travel camp! He took out from the library every travel book he could get his hands on about the Smokey Mountains, Atlanta, Savannah, Orlando and other areas of the South. He studied maps, he devised travel routes (he became close buddies with the bus driver), he reviewed traffic patterns of the major cities they would be travelling through and personally rated all the attractions they would be visiting.
Finally, Sunday August 17th arrived and the adventure began. We dropped off Joey at Newark airport with the Aryeh United group. Yoni and his incredible staff greeted us warmly and we could tell that Joey would be in patient, competent, sensitive and professional hands. For the next 10 days, my husband and I followed the group via Facebook – pictures of Joey experiencing his ‘firsts’: white water rafting (with the big smile!), horseback riding, water tubing (Yes! More water!), sharing a hotel room with people he barely knew, adapting, adjusting and modifying his behavior or expectations in novel situations (with some guidance from the adults) and most importantly, being afforded the opportunity to travel with his peers in a setting that created a sense of normalcy for a teen whose life is often far from it. Sure there were some ‘bumps’ along the way. But any issues that arose, were handled by Yoni & Staff with compassion and the utmost understanding and professionalism.
Joey is still raving about his trip (to anyone within earshot) and is already suggesting ( or should I say, strongly recommending) what Aryeh United’s travel plans ought to be for next summer (expect an e-mail, Yoni!) I cannot express in words what it means to be able to have your special needs child experience what is readily possible for a typical child but next to impossible for your own. For Joey, Aryeh United has made the impossible possible. I thank you for your vision and unwavering determination in getting this trip off the ground (literally). And now that you are up and running, don’t stop…you’ve got a great thing going. Besides, Joey’s got his bag packed and ready to go….
West Hempstead, NY