In early March I was panicking. Special needs camp spots are hard to secure, and early registration is a necessity if one needs to be sure of something. I work part time. I needed to find a SUITABLE summer camp for my son with autism. And there were no viable options.
Summer is a very difficult time for many children with autism, because suddenly, they lose their routine. That routine helps them to cope with their challenges. Because the routine is missing, my son (and others like him) feels anxiety, and where there are communication problems, that leads to behavior problems. In the past, summer was not much fun for our family.
Last summer N attended summer camp hosted by our local branch of Autism Ontario. The camp was fabulous, because it was autism appropriate. We had, for the first time in years, a good summer because N was happy. This year the branch did not have sufficient funds to offer summer camp. I was devastated. I wanted another summer like last summer.
In years past we had tried several civic Parks and Recreation summer programs. But invariably they were designed for normal functioning kids, and just provided extra supervision for “special needs”. If you did not register in February the day/hour/minute registration opened, you were most likely out of luck to get a support person from the city. There is no correlation between need and provision of support. It is “first come first served” to any kid with any kind of diagnosis. If you are out of luck, then chances are pretty good you will have to provide a support worker at your own expense, because your kid will not be able to manage otherwise.
At the city camp, my son who is mod-severe could not participate in most activities because they involved skills that he did not possess. I understand the spirit of inclusion, it is well intentioned, but for some kids, they just need something they can succeed at.
I did the only thing I could do – I prayed for help. And lo and behold, my prayers were answered.
My son had been attending weekly special needs trampoline in Mississauga, which he totally enjoys. One Sunday morning I asked the lady who ran the session if there was anything in the summer for special needs at the trampoline centre?
No, she replied, but after a pause she told me about an autism camp she had run for a number of years. She has a son a few years older than N with mod-severe autism, which prompted her to create this camp because there was a need. She thought N might fit in. She gave me the information, which I reviewed with joy, because I could imagine a second happy summer.
Summer camp 2013 involves life skills practice: cooking, shopping for groceries, eating in restaurants. The restaurants are prepared: they give the kids visual menus which they can use to order their own food by circling the picture of their choice. Summer camp involves sensory activities like swimming and splash pads, and swinging and jumping. Summer camp uses skills and activities that can my son can be successful at, like walking in the woods, and appropriate crafts with simple fine motor skills. All supported with verbal and visual schedules so that he can understand what’s happening, all supported by staff that are trained and very experienced.
It is expensive but worth every penny, for the peace of mind that comes when my son is in good hands, when my son greats me with a smile when I pick him up.
We are two weeks into our summer and it is going very well. I will post pics soon.