“Camp is a place where our camper’s individual expression is celebrated within a group dynamic. Through a variety of experiences, campers will develop friendships, strengthen communication skills, and grow into the natural expression of who they are. The context will be a safe and nurturing Jewish environment.”
This is the Camp Simcha mission statement; one that I have upheld as a counselor for the past four summers.
Summertime is usually filled with stress and anxiety for families with children on the spectrum. The loss of their usual routines and lack of structure leads these children to feel out of sorts and often act out. It’s hard to take vacations because kids with Autism hate change, have sensory issues, and are picky eaters (among other factors that make tourism a challenge). Also, there are so few summer camps out there that are accepting of campers with special needs, specifically Autism Spectrum Disorders. This can only lead to one thing: chaos!
Thankfully, I have found a solution that works for me. Saying that I love Camp Simcha is a complete understatement. Camp is where I’ve met the vast majority of my friends; a place that I call my second home. One major thing that sets Camp Simcha apart from other camps is that it’s an environment accepting of diversity. During morning circle time, we sing a song called “Give & Get.” Here are some of the lyrics:
Some of us wear glasses, some communicate with our hands, others read with their fingers, and some need help with making friends. Some of us use crutches, some of us use a chair, it doesn't matter how we move along because we all need love and care. We all work at different speeds, because every one of us, every one of us, every one of us, has special needs!
As you can probably tell by these lyrics, Camp Simcha is an extraordinary place to be. It’s rare to find a place where every single person accepts you for who you are. I have found that at this camp. I love kids and have bonded with many of them over the years. However, the staff is what makes camp so special to me. I think of every single staff member, no matter what title they may have, like family. With so many staff members, there will naturally be ones that I may not click with and others that I immediately connect with. It’s no different than a blood-related family! The counselors that I do connect with are absolute lifelong friends. As I said in an earlier friendship-related post titled “Friendships: An ASD Success Story,” I never take these people for granted. Many neurotypicals have lots of friends and may take them for granted at times, but I know how special a good friend really is. Their amazing voices, acting skills, youth leadership skills, humorous jokes, and genuine kindness are a few of the many reasons why they are the best! These people are my heroes; people who I look up to, can always text and count on, and love dearly. These people are the ones that lift me up when I’m down and always remind me what it means to be a good friend.
Another thing about camp that I enjoy is the fantastic support system. I know that everyone has my back, no matter what. After I published my last post titled “Growing Up Autism: The Pain Of Being Bullied,” the camp director mentioned the topic of bullying at one of the staff meetings. He did this not only to bring awareness but to show how important it is to listen to each other. As all of the staff know about my blog, he mentioned my post and said that nobody should ever go through the things that I went through and that the goal of Camp Simcha is to prevent these cruel acts from happening to anyone.
When I was younger I went to several camps where the staff and campers didn’t understand me or my needs. There were many summers when my parents couldn’t find any camp suitable at all. When I finally went to Camp Simcha, I found my place. Sure, I struggled at first (and occasionally still do). But when you have staff who are accepting, patient, loving, and wanting to learn how to help you succeed and have fun, then that’s exactly what you do!
So even though summers can be hard for kids on the spectrum, there are some great solutions out there. My camp is not the only Autism-friendly one out there; all you need to do is find your own Camp Simcha! And if you can’t find it, help create it!