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I almost missed the email regarding overnight respite as I was rushing around on a busy Saturday. It was from Justin’s new camp, a haven for developmentally disabled adults and children not too far from where we live. It is both a day and overnight camp, with specific weekends and weeks allocated throughout the year for autistic individuals. Justin has successfully attended day camp there this summer, with another stint coming up during his second summer school hiatus coming up at the end of August.

My heart soared as I read the email, thinking of the potential opportunity for Justin to someday sleep over at the camp. I don’t know if he’ll be able to handle it, but I know if he does well his last three days this summer that we’ll be looking into a weekend this school year, a decision we will make as much for us as for him.

My boy needs to learn to sleep somewhere other than his own bed.

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Back in the day when he was little Justin slept over my mom’s house, but at a certain point he stopped wanting to do that, and we stopped trying. He does sleep in a different bed when we go to Disney every other year, but that is with me in the bed next to him, so in my mind it doesn’t really count. The truth is someday he’ll be sleeping in a home that isn’t his parents’, and I really feel we’ll be doing him a disservice if we don’t try to give him other opportunities to get used to sleeping away from home.

I could tell you that I think he’ll enjoy it, but that would be a lie.

I’ve always pushed Justin to try new things, even when he initially seemed like he hated the activity. Call it mother’s intuition, but when he was little I just knew that eventually he would like the boardwalk, Great Adventure, and our backyard pool, and I kept trying to help him acclimate to those activities. Eventually, by pairing them with food (who doesn’t like that as a reinforcer!) and gradually lengthening our stays at these locations, Justin got to the point where he loved going out, would unceremoniously drop his shoes at my feet and look at me as if to say “Where are we going today Mom?”

I know that he’s grown to enjoy these outings both due to the lack of behaviors when we go out, and also to his smiles when we reach our destination. He’s always ready to go home however, back to the sanctuary of his room, his DVD player, and his forays on YouTube. I know in my heart if we drop him off at camp with a suitcase and his pillow he is going to want to go home at the end of the day, but I think it’s time we pushed him past his comfort zone and gave it a try.

Believe me, it’s pushing me past my comfort zone as well.

Justin is sixteen now, just five years away from the conclusion of his school entitlement ending and impending adulthood. As much as a part of me wants to keep him safely cocooned here forever to protect him, I know that’s ultimately not his life trajectory. He won’t like sleeping away from us, but he needs to practice doing it so it will be easier for him to transition out of our home someday to his new one.

It’s time for me to push him to do something he may not like in an effort to make his transition easier for him down the road.

So keep your fingers crossed both for him and for me (I don’t know who will be more nervous that weekend), because it’s time to stretch my boy’s limits and see if he can fly.

And let’s see if his mom can too.

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