A walk with Enzo: AuSM Hand in Hand camp counselor recounts his time with his camper

AuSM Hand in Hand camp counselor shares about his camp experience.

Envision a symphony, reaching its crescendo, conductor swinging their arms fervently about pushing the body of commotion to its peak. Now strip it back, remove first the drums, the bass, the rhythm section that keeps the metronome of your heartbeat in time. Next to go is the brass section, bright punches of horn fade followed in succession by the winds, dimmer still as the waves of flutes and oboes calm to a motionless silence. Last to be peeled away are the strings, as the arms of the violinists move in a flurry, the rhythmic beauty of their sounds dissipate into the air and you are left feeling only the gentle cushion of the seat beneath you.

You can see it all playing out, in your mind’s eye you envision what each musician is trying so passionately to communicate and yet no matter the motions that ensue, you are left with only your best guess as to what they wish to convey.

Welcome to a walk with Enzo.

What I know to be true: Enzo is a man in his mid-20s on the autism spectrum, he finds peace when he is in motion, and expresses himself in ways those of us who take verbal communication for granted may struggle to recognize or comprehend. Enzo’s family have described him as nonverbal and extremely communicative, a balance only achieved through his tremendous patience for those of us in his company. He is a man who is fully present and practices mindfulness in each step he takes.

Our paths first crossed five years ago at Camp Knutson in Crosslake, Minn. The Autism Society of Minnesota, in partnership with Camp Knutson, offers four sessions of Camp Hand in Hand, a week-long summer camp designed and adapted specifically for people of all ages on the autism spectrum to enjoy. This camp is operated on a one-to-one camper to support-staff ratio, meaning staff accompany and support campers throughout the entirety of their action-filled days. It was at camp where I initially met Enzo and came to experience mindfulness personified.

In August 2019, I had the opportunity to support Enzo for an entire week, which allowed me to explore my own understandings of self-expression, communication, and, most importantly,  listening. A quote from poet, activist, and educator Nikki Giovanni puts the week we shared in perspective: “​I’m glad I understand that while language is a gift, listening is a responsibility​.”

Listening to Enzo was an exercise in deconstructing all of the signs, signals, and unwritten codes of communication that I previously took for granted. These moments together required interpreting each environment, reading the characters entering and exiting the scene at will, doing one’s best to understand and predict what variables may be stressors and which were welcome relief and respite. In these instances, I began to understand listening as Giovanni described it, “​a responsibility.”

Hearing Enzo meant being present. It meant observing the space we shared in that moment, exploring our surroundings, and enjoying new ways of engaging with our community. I did not think about paying rent or calling grandma back; my mind was solely with Enzo in each step we took. Practicing mindfulness aided me in clearing my own thoughts, prioritizing what brought me joy in life, and exemplified how to simply be.

Our world could do with a reframing of what it means to listen. Beginning with slowing our minds and bodies, offering ourselves time to process all of the layered and complex information we receive. Embracing life in the present moment, leading to a fuller understanding of ourselves and those we experience. Listening to our neighbors, beyond their words, and hearing them as they wish to be heard holds the potential to build bridges across communities. These are the lessons that Enzo taught me, not through words but in the way he engaged with the world around him.

While the rest of the world is pushing to speed the orchestra to its crescendo, I invite you to pause, breathe, and listen like you might if you were on a walk with Enzo.

– Written by Michael Pucci, AuSM Education Specialist

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