Almost four years ago, our family found out there was an Open House for a new Autism camp coming to the Oklahoma City area. We excitedly packed our children into our vehicle and drove the thirty minutes away to check it out. The new Autism camp was going to be hosted by and held at CampFire Heart of Oklahoma located close to my hometown. When we arrived at the CampFire location, we found and entered the Nature Center where we were given more information about the new Autism day camp. The CampFire Director and his staff gave us a limited tour of thirty-three acres, after the boys participated in painting with marbles. We crossed at least one of two rustic bridges and saw the pond that was used for fishing and canoeing. My husband and I knew that a photographer from the local newspaper was at CampFire Heart of Oklahoma’s Open House taking pictures but, we were pleasantly surprised to find out that a picture of Nathan catching a fish made the front page of the paper the following day!
Since the summer of 2012, I have had the privilege of being a camp counselor for this totally awesome Autism day-camp held during the last full week of July every year. As each summer draws to an end, the anticipation of this special week builds within the staff, as well as for each of the families of the campers, as it approaches. It is an experience in which the camp counselors come away from making just as much an emotional investment as a physical one in the lives of the children attending Camp C.A.N.O.E. (Children with Autism Need Outdoor Experiences). During the week-long Autism day camp, the campers and counselors participate in a variety of outdoor activities such as fishing, canoeing, zipline, ropes course, archery, rock climbing, slingshots, and feeding the animals that live on the property. After everyone arrives, each group starts out by selecting a location and then building a home in the woods. This gives each camper and counselor the opportunity to get to know the other individuals in the smaller group to which they have been assigned, and to learn more about their surroundings. The primary goal of Camp C.A.N.O.E. is to assist each camper so that he or she can participate in as many CampFire activities as possible during the week-long day camp, and ultimately broadening their experiences. Autism Camp C.A.N.O.E. counselors can be compared to therapists, patiently working with these children to learn about new things in their surroundings and nature.
It is extremely beneficial for a camp counselor to be able to make that connection with the one or two campers which he or she is matched with. Each of the camp counselors either has previous experience working with children whom have been diagnosed on the spectrum or has acquired specific training to prepare them to work with these special children. The camp counselors that I have been privileged to volunteer with have an innate awareness, understanding and acceptance of their individual camper(s) with which helps to lay the foundation for that one of a kind relationship with them. The camp counselor that my boys had was very intuitive to what interested them, what their individual needs were, and when they required some time away from the rest of the group. That is critical when working with a child diagnosed with Autism. Every individual is unique and what may work one moment may not work the next. You have to be able to read body language, as well as, be able to pick up on their behavioral cues besides having a basic understanding that anything is possible when it comes to a child who has Autism.
It would be great if we as an online community could start a specific online location that parents of children who have been diagnosed with Autism, and possibly for all special needs children, could visit to view all available camps to decide which ones would benefit their family the most. If YOU have the skills to help facilitate this with me, please contact me at your earliest convenience. In the meantime, I will be gathering information on the ones I am aware of and hope that everyone will do the same. Anyone interested in volunteering to make this available to other families across the nation, I would appreciate the help. As a collaborative effort, we could possibly have it up for next summer!