Camp SHOUT (See Him Open Up Truth), a four-week day camp at Jubilee Fellowship Christian Reformed Church in St. Catharines, Ont., is noisy, fast, and crowded – exactly the wrong kind of environment for a child with needs on the autism spectrum. But those kids also need a safe place to spend time in the summer months, too.
This summer, the unexpected attendance of two boys needing accommodation required camp organizers to think outside the hoola-hoops, boisterous welcome songs, and active running games.
“We purchased child-sized noise-canceling headphones to ease anxiety due to overstimulation of noise,” said camp committee member Joanne Tenyenhuis. Tenyenhuis also made a quiet kit that included sensory exploration items such as moon sand, play dough, and a stress ball.
The quiet kit sits next to a child-sized tent in one corner of the multi-use sanctuary – a peaceful spot where a counselor or teen volunteer can provide time-out for an over-stimulated camper, while still being in the programming space.
The staff and volunteers have found the additional supports helpful for Juanesteban, 5, whose dad helped with the recommendations. “If you get him focused on something, like the ball, or the sand or play dough, he can focus and calm down,” said counselor Gracelyn, 17. “Or sometimes he’ll just hibernate in the tent.”
Owen, a 13-year-old volunteer, was a previous camper whose return this year was a great help for Juanestabon. “I worked with him at school,” Owen said. “I volunteered to help at recess breaks. [Here] I tried to help by doing what we did at school – try to calm him down and to sit with him.”
Juanesteban’s family was referred to camp by Chez Marie, a refugee assistance center in the same city.
“I think this is one of Jubilee’s biggest opportunities with Camp SHOUT,” said Anna Bailey, the church’s youth and young adult ministry coordinator and the camp’s director. “We should be looking towards making changes to our programming to benefit families from walks of life who don’t get timely diagnoses, specialists, and tailored care plans because they don't currently have the tools to access those.”