Happy Camping

Taking part in the Duke of Edinburgh’s award scheme is not something that I ever did when I was at school.  I must have missed the meeting or something; either that, or I took no notice of it, after an unhappy week spent at the Dartmoor Adventure Centre when I was twelve, and I was the only one who turned up without a sleeping bag.  Sleeping bag inners were provided, the letter said, so my mum took it at its word and, while other girls unpacked their own pillows and pillow cases, I was left to make do with a sleeping bag inner and a ripped and dirty sleeping bag with half the stuffing falling out.  Needless to say, I didn’t get much sleep that week, and my enthusiasm for the outdoors and adventures was dimmed.

I didn’t really enjoy the activities either, it must be said.  My group got lost when we ‘orienteered’ around a short course.  I fell in the water, after going round and round in circles for a while, when it was me at the end of the canoe raft and I had to swap places with the one at the other end.  I was too thin for the climbing harness and had to have a rope tied around my waist (I chickened out of the abseiling, which was probably a good thing).  It wasn’t long before I was longing to go home.

The husband, on the other hand, loved it.  He went and achieved his gold award, and, after we married, introduce me to the delights of hiking with bikes, and walking up mountains.  Up until our Scottish Holiday, my only experience in tents had been in my parents’ garden and was Not Good.  I still get a bit funny about sleeping bags.  Sam, with the support of his dad, has decided to give the Bronze award a go.  Volunteering at a charity café, check.  Sport (football), check.  Skill (guitar), check.  All we have left to do is the adventurous activity.  He’ll go camping at forest school and we’re off up Pen Y Fan in a couple of weeks.

Sam though, bless him, is not the happiest of campers.  It always seems like so much fun until you actually have to go to bed, and then it all becomes a bit of a trial.  He can’t get comfy in the sleeping bag.  The ground is all slopy.  There are funny noises.  There’s weather.  Last year, in the middle of a week away, he disappeared in the dark, only to be found, arms crossed and a most pugnacious of expressions applied, sitting in the car, determined to be taken to Grandma’s.  Despite my early antipathy to life under canvas, tenting has become part of what we do, and so we persevere.

For some people, though, it’s an amazing thought that someone with special needs should have been camping with his family.  Only the other week, I was given a leaflet about it by someone who was surprised when I handed it back and suggested that they gave it to someone for whom it would be a new and exciting experience.  It felt weird, and terribly middle class to tell her the tale of the camping trip to the sailing club, and the fact that Sam has his own boat (a kayak).  It was a shock, because, once we moved away from the mainstream, and we grew away from the nursery years and we chased off the home visits from the social worker and all of those other things that happen when there is special needs in the family, I got used to not being patronised.

You see, some people, and I include members of my own profession in this, forget that learning disability, or special educational needs, or whatever you want to call it, is no respecter of class or income.  It’s as if special educational needs only happen to the disadvantaged, the poor or the working class.  You know, the people you can blame for the whole Bad Parenting thing.  That the answer to special needs is somehow to educate parents (send them on a parenting course, especially the mother), or get the children away from the parents (like the school for two-year-olds thing), to get the parents, those ignorant mistake makers to do as they are told because we, the professionals, are the ones who know what we are doing.

It used to be said that illness and disability, or the Bad Things That Happen were the wages of sin.  You did Bad Things, and you got what you deserved.  The way of thinking that thought that Bad Things didn’t happen to Good People.  Sad to say, when you get thinking about it, when you get to mulling over attitudes to special educational needs, how they must be the fault of the parents, for not doing as they are told, it doesn’t feel like we have moved on very far.

14 thoughts on “Happy Camping

      1. I can’t imagine the fear…well actually I can! I LOVE that Sam was sitting in the car. It’s such a strong character he has!

  1. Whatever it is you do in life, keeping zealots out of it is a pretty good rule of thumb. Whether it’s camping, whether it’s religion, or whether it’s teachers with a mission to save kids from the poverty of the unwashed.

    A lot of these no excuses teachers are traditionalists. Fair enough; this is a way of teaching that works very well for my kids. But it’s telling how for some of these teachers, the interest in ‘the best that’s been thought and said’ evaporates as soon as you ask them to read up on particular types of SEN.

    The persistent, lazy conflation of SEND and behaviour, SEND and low expectations, SEND and poor parenting, SEND and fabricated/imagined conditions. Not much of it survives actual contact with most parents of kids with SEND – and even less survives when you introduce their siblings into the mix.

    But evangelical movements need this stuff – deserving kids, let down by all around them, redeemed by the heroic cleansing fire of core knowledge & high expectations. They have to have bad people (or good people, led morally astray) to sustain this vision.

    One of the first things I lost as a parent of a disabled child was ego. I think that’s one of the reasons I find some of these attitudes so repulsive.

  2. My younger son tried the Bronze DoE. He managed some of it, even the volunteering at a local charity shop. Where he struggled though, was the camping requirements needing the assessor to validate – he couldn’t cope with the group camp and the assessor was too difficult to coordinate with to manage to get it done with his Dad.
    Eventually he lost hope and interest. Result, no award. Very sad. A bit more support or some lateral thinking and he would have managed it. And this was at a special school.

  3. My middle son would be with Sam sitting in the car but the other two were/are happy campers. Adam was happy to camp with his mates even when very ill. Makes it tricky when family members have very different likes

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