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The Magic on the Mountain

on August 19, 2011

Recently, my husband, my son (Alex), his babysitter (Illy) and I spent 4 days at Meadowood Springs’ brand new ASD Family Immersion Camp with 9 other families. How do I condense 4 amazing days of such valuable information in just a page or so to keep a reader’s interest? Well, I’m going to attempt the most basic summary I can…forgive the choppy writing for the sake of preserving space!

Day 1: Dust, the Connector, and comfort zones:

I am not a camper. I don’t like dirt & the other various treasures that come with “roughing it.” Despite this, we drove out to Eastern Oregon anyway because I knew it would be a wonderful experience for my son and for my family. In short, the camp staff and the ASD counselors (Eric & Steve) took us under their wings and not only got us settled in, but immediately started to work on helping our family in various areas (especially when Alex took off in a swirl of dust & confusion the minute we arrived). We were given anDSC09286.JPG excellent tool called the Connector (, which helped us to keep Alex safe while still allowing him to have fun, connect with us on a whole new level, expel some energy & ultimately, learn new things. I could write so much more on this -just check out the site!

Dinner time resulted in a tantrum (as I knew it would), but no one scowled or scolded, and Eric even helped me calm down by using the Connector to bring Alex closer to me, which calmed *him* down. (Bonus: Alex didn’t tantrum at mealtime *once* during the rest of our stay at the camp!) The parents’ first lesson that night with Eric & Steve happened to be about stepping out of our comfort zones.

Day 2: Teamwork, swimming, and parenting:

After a delightful, tantrum-free breakfast, the parents had another lesson with Eric and Steve, where we all got to know each other a little better, and learned the importance of working together as a team, even though our parenting styles might be different. Additionally, we also learned to practice the art of perseverance, patience, staying calm & constant, and asking for help. During our sessions, the kids and their caregivers got to go roam the grounds, where Alex got to go canoeing, hiking, ride down a zip line, play in a creek & even spent a little time in the craft/toy room. There were so many wonderful things to do at the camp!

DSC09311.JPGLater that day, after some super-fun swimming pool bonding (which was great for our little “fish”), we had some 1-on-1 time with Steve, where we learned to encourage communication from Alex…even when the answer to his requests happened to be “no.” We got to practice a technique where we place Alex’s hands on our cheeks (so he is driven to look in our eyes) when a request is being made. With his hands on our cheeks and a smile on our face, we can confirm to him nonverbally that, regardless of the request or demand or whatever, we are not mad at him. In a similar way, we can also convey concern when he is doing something inappropriate. Another little gem we learned with Steve was the new concept of side-along “time-outs,” which included sitting beside Alex when he could not calm down.

Day 3: New stuff, mousetraps & trust:

DSC09363.JPGOn this day, Alex actually tried NEW things to eat at mealtimes while he sat quietly by our side! During our daily session, the parents got to learn a little more about trust by literally leading their partners through mousetraps. I think the most important thing I took from this session was that it was important for us to allow our family to enter into and overcome obstacles as they arose, and to trust each other in the process. It is in our nature, especially as special needs family, to be wary of “rocking the boat,” but we cannot and will not hide our kids away from the world in order to keep everyone comfortable. We have to take chances and guide our kids through these inevitable “mousetraps” of life. If you aren’t growing, you aren’t learning, and you certainly aren’t living.

On the evening of this 3rd day (our last full day at the camp), we got a chance to have a really good talk with Alex’s babysitter, Illy, who is going off to college in the Fall (dangit)! Every day she was exposed kids all over the spectrum, and she became more intrigued by the puzzle that is Autism. The experience ultimately helped her decide to pursue some studies in Autism during her college career. She is a beautiful person and this is a beautiful thing.

Day 4: Mermaids, Butterflies & Happy Birthday, Alex!

Our last day at the camp was bittersweet. At breakfast, Alex was served his new favorite blueberry muffin cake with candles while everyone sang to him. Our time at the camp came slowly to an end as we had our last session, where we played one last game that reminded us how very like butterflies our children are to the world. Eric also read to us a story about Mermaids in a world of Giants, wizards and dwarfs (, which brought the whole experience home.

The adults then shared about how the camp had changed our families for the better that weekend. Many didn’t want to leave & have to go out into the real world without Eric & Steve! I know I didn’t! Lots of touching things were said and there were very few dry eyes in the room. There was sad stuff, happy stuff & hard stuff, and it was all good.

But one comment stood apart from the rest, and it came from one of the folks that actually run the Camp. The man speaking teased me about my frustration with all the dust and dirt that was stirred up every time we hiked around the trails (non-camper here)! Then, with tears in his eyes, he explained to me that there was something very special in that DSC09299.JPGdust, that it touched everyone who came there and somehow managed to change their lives for the better in many ways. Magic dust, he called it.

The Magic on the Mountain touched all of our lives during this trip. We all came back still covered in it…and we wore it proudly. When it washed off, we know it left some of its magic on us.

Thank you to Steve & Eric (who came to us from the Pace Place), the staff at Meadowood Springs’ new ASD Family Immersion Camp and the “Magic on the Mountain!” We will never be the same. And that is a very, very good thing.

DSC09404.JPGThe Zelinka Family – Kristi, Duane & Alex – with Illy,

at Meadowood Springs ASD Family Immersion Camp


2 responses to “The Magic on the Mountain

  1. Robert says:

    Very nice Kristi. Thank you for your kind words and sharing your story.

    • mommy4autism says:

      I think, more appropriately, that I should be thanking *you* Robert, for your hospitality, and for the beauty that ensues while at your camp =) And, of course, for your own very special words that helped to give me a title for this very special blog! ❤ Kristi

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