Max made a friend at camp this summer, a 13-year-old named Max who like him has a mop of dark hair and a sweet smile. Making friends is what campers do, and Max has made amazing connections over the years with his fellow bunkmates (who also have disabilities) at Camp Ramah in the Poconos, along with campers in other bunks.
I was ecstatic that Max got to attend camp this summer. They created a bubble: After all campers and staffers arrived, fully Covid-19 tested, nobody else new came to camp. Seeing him bust out was especially blissful, because to me it felt like Summer 2021 was making up for the summer that got cancelled. Max was dancing, singing, smiling his head off or doing all three at once in every photo and video.
This was also the summer of Max & Max—the two of them cropped up repeatedly in photos on the website, arms draped over each other shoulders. That was something new in Max's life, an organic, not-coordinated, didn't-have-to-sign-up-for-it friendship with a person without disabilities. It's something I've struggled with for years: Max is a super-social guy, why didn't he have more friends of all abilities?
As the parent of a person with disabilities who's needed to be proactive and downright pushy about getting her son included in programs, events and activities over the years, I've long known just how reciprocally awesome it can be. My son gets to be part of the fun and try out different activities, just like any child or teen deserves to. Other children and teens get to see how much a disabled person can be like them, grow comfortable with differences and accept them, understand the diverse kind of abilities that exist and grasp the glorious spectrum that is humanity. Win-win.
While I browed the photos, though, it occurred to me that my Max had chosen to include this boy in his life, just like Max no. 2 and other campers had been encouraged to include Max's bunk in theirs. Inclusion is often taken to mean including people with disabilities (PWD). But the reverse happens, too: Max had let a PWOD (Person Without Disabilities) into his world.
Inclusion was on fully display in the talent show the camp had last week, where campers of all abilities performed together. The Maxes did a karaoke duet of Party in the USA and I've now watched the video approximately one billion times. "The energy was infectious, the love, respect and understanding of one another universal," wrote the program director, Orlee, when she shared the video on Facebook. Or as my friend Bronte said, "I love that Max's camp bubble includes a mosh pit fan club of teen girls."