Youth Forward scholarship 2016 – Beyond the Labels

Name: Sydney Stafford
From: Houston, Texas
Grade: 12
School: DeBakey High School for Health Professions
Votes: 1

Beyond the Labels

Pey di cah?”

I stared at him blankly, my mind racing to try to interpret what the
blonde-haired boy in the wrinkled T-shirt and superhero-themed crocs
that was standing right in front of me just said.

Um…Can you say that again?”

Caya elp meh.”

His words sounded even more foreign to me the second time around; I had
no idea what he was saying. I was volunteering at a summer camp for
disabled children created by the Children’s Association for Maximum
Potential, Camp C.A.M.P. As a volunteer, I was a personal counselor
to a mentally disabled child for a week, assisting him with daily
tasks and encouraging him to interact with others. My camper, Trent,
was a six-year-old boy who had autism. I would be lying if I said
that I got along with Trent right from the beginning; the first day
was difficult for us both. Trent had speech disabilities that
prevented him from being able to enunciate his words correctly, and
while he was getting frustrated at my lack of understanding him, I
was becoming frustrated at my inability to understand him. However,
with each passing hour we began to get used to each other. The words
that at first sounded like gibberish turned into words that made
sense to me, and the frustration and tension between us eased.

The more I got to know Trent, the more I began to realize that he was
just like any other six-year-old boy I had encountered. His autism
didn’t hold him back from anything he wanted to accomplish. When we
went swimming, he would venture out further into the deeper ends in
an attempt to learn how to swim, and when we took part in art
activities, he would diligently work towards his version of artistic
perfection. With each day that passed, I became more and more amazed
at the amount of charisma, diligence, and personality I saw in this
boy that society labeled as “mentally disabled”. Society labels
disabled people in such negative light, but after my week at camp, I
realized how wrongly misunderstood autistic children were. Trent
along with my experience at camp impacted my perspective of those
with mental disabilities, and by the end of the week, I saw my camper
as nothing less than my equal.

My experience at camp made me realize that I wanted to work with others
that society deemed “outside the norm.” I want to learn about
others and give them a chance for someone to see them as being a
person who is as normal as anyone else. My camper inspired me to set
new goals for myself to meet people at different communities and try
to relate to them to a higher extent than anyone else would. In the
future, I want to pursue a career that will not only allow me to
accomplish my goals, but to also benefit others and not just myself,
and a career in medicine as a doctor fits my goals.

Join our Facebook group "Volunteers for a Better World".