My daughter is the wonder of my life

My daughter was born different, though for two years we didn't know. Then, there were signs that she was developing at a slower rate than other kids. It seems, in retrospect, like there was a whirlwind of doctors' visits, before she was diagnosed as being on the autistic spectrum. It felt so devastasting at the time. I didn't understand autism very well; my entire experience with it then was courtesy Dustin Hoffman's character in Rain Man. I had, as it turns out, very false impressions of what it meant. 

Melissa is not like that, but she has certain difficulties which we folded into our daily lives. She has trouble meeting a person's eyes when she talks to them. She doesn't understand the sense of connection that that imparts to most people. She talks to me more when I'm not around than she does when I am, but I learned early on that, if I listened in on her conversations with me, I could walk into the room and respond to her, and she would continue the conversation once she thought I had left again. Melissa has always needed a lot of space. 

When she was eleven, we sent Melissa to a summer camp for autistic children. That was when the problems really started. Her autism I could deal with, but while at the camp Melissa was abused. Apparently, they advertised the camp as being 'for' children with developmental difficulties, but aside from a resident counselor with a master's degree in developmental psychology the camp was no more equipped to handle special needs than any other summer camp. We were assured of otherwise in advance, everything seemed to be in order. To make a long story short, the camp was shut down after that year. Seven children that we know of, including Melissa, were abused there. Criminal charges were filed, the organization that owned that camp fired the director -- a scapegoat, in my opinion, but I was happy to see him go in any case. The man had no business administering a camp for kids, special needs or no. He was either complicit in, or had no clue about, widespread abuse. 

For a couple of years after camp, Melissa had trouble dealing with other children... more than before. Before, she'd simply been distant, removed. Now she was scared and hostile. We brought her to a special counselor, who diagnosed her with PTSD. Another roadblock for me; I'd always thought that was something that soldiers went through. It turns out that, of every 10 cases of PTSD, as many as 3 or 4 are civilian cases... and studies have shown that there may be more, undiagnosed. Everyone goes through trauma, and it's poorly understood as to why some people suffer more psychologically as a result, though Melissa's autism likely played a part. 

You can't imagine what it's like to be told that your child was lost and confused, being hurt by strangers, in a place YOU sent her to to have fun, meet new people, and learn new things. 

Melissa is in her early 20s now. She's developed several coping strategies, with the help of a series of counselors. She'll always be autistic, but in the meantime she's a successful college student... one who is capable of holding down a job, and making new friends on her own. The friends she has are few, but they all look after her. She helps them with math (I know, it's a stereotype, but she actually IS good at math). She's managed more than some "fully abled" persons I know. It's really helped me to look at people with a less judgmental eye. 

Her post traumatic stress disorder is less severe than it used to be. It's taken a lot to overcome. Traumatic events can still trigger flashbacks, where she doesn't go to class for a couple of days. I only recently found out that she's always had nightmares going back to summer camp, but never told us about it. 

Hopefully, someday, I'll forgive myself for that.

User Comments
Anon-1

Forgive yourself. Even if you just wanted a week's peace and quiet, and had no other notions but that when you sent her; there's nothing wrong with that. Camps like this exist, and can be wonderful experiences. You got scammed by an organization trying to make a few extra bucks for minimal effort. What happened is on them, and on the abusers. 

Anon-2

Melissa sounds like a marvelous, hardy soul. Autism is grossly misunderstood; even with PTSD, which I know is slow to recover from... Melissa can have a long, healthy, and happy life. You sound like you've been a good parent to your daughter. You should be proud :)

Anon-3

I went through PTSD after coming home from Iraq. Then, my son went through it a couple of years ago, after coming home from summer camp. I'm still facing that, but the point is... you shouldn't blame anyone but the people who abused your child. You certainly can't blame yourself, just be there as her parent.

Anon-4

A lot of people never develop coping strategies, or else it takes them decades. If I were Melissa's father, I'd be really proud of her too.

Don't blame yourself.