When can I go back? When can I return to Pioneer Camp? That is what my 12 year old son said to me as we were pulling away from the zip line & high rope course at Ontario Pioneer Camp. You have no idea what those words mean to me. My son wants to go to camp and I don’t have to worry about him. Worrying is par for the course. My son was diagnosed with PDDNOS on the Autism Spectrum when he was about 9 years old.
What does that mean? It means that there are some accommodations that need to be made because he has some minor sensory processing and subtle socializing issues (too much noise or too many people), reading social cues (stop talking… no, really, stop talking or you’re standing too close, remember my personal space). To complicate matters, H. was also diagnosed as ‘gifted’ so that means he is really, really smart. He absorbs copious amounts of information and likes to disseminate (talk, talk, talk) said information.
So, you have to be patient with him and listen, even when you have lost interest. He is also obsessed with video games… as many boys are but he brings it to an obsessive extreme sometimes. So all-in-all, he is not your typical boy.
Considering an overnight camp 4 hours away from home without his sisters, parents or teachers to ‘buffer’ him from those that just don’t get really him… well, that is a stretch for us. Then I saw a-pot-at-the-end-of-the-rainbow. I was introduced to the very talented and dedicated and faith focused staff at OPC.
We had the privilege of going to Ontario Pioneer Camp for a weekend of family fun and relaxation. Correction: forget the relaxation stuff, there are far too many things to do at OPC to even think about relaxing.
Back to H. and his request to return. I had never considered sending him to an overnight camp as it has always been challenging for any camp leader to have him. We had sent him to day camps before but I was always happy to have him home at the end of the day hoping to have dodged a ‘he’s had a bad-day’ conversation. In the day camps, the schedules were short and more importantly, the sports were limited.
The thing is H. is very cerebral and not very athletic. Frankly, he hates sports. He doesn’t like playing them, he doesn’t like watching them. He doesn’t really like participating in them…. You can see the conflict that would be created in going to a ‘sports’ camp. He doesn’t skate (the ice rink was too cold and he would shut down, quickly), he hasn’t mastered how to ride a bike (it is too tipsy, too fast, too unstable), he doesn’t like team sports (he lacks good hand-eye co-ordination, understanding cues and following rules can be difficult) so any sport that requires co-operation with other players can be a bad thing.
Fortunately, Ontario Pioneer Camp has all sorts of different activities that he could chose from that would be challenging for him and would provide the opportunity to learn new social and physical skills. More importantly, OPC has an inclusion program that works with special needs kids. *BONUS*. The staff is well versed in understanding the needs of autistic children. Let me repeat that for you… The staff is well versed in understanding the needs of autistic children… His needs… My SON’s needs. THAT is HUGE because sometime these kids need a little extra dose of patience when tackling new adventures.
Just a few of the AWESOME staff that helped us and guided us at OPC (photo Credit: OPC Facebook Page)
This weekend he tried the rock climbing wall. I wasn’t sure how this would roll out. He had a tough time at first but as he continued to climb up,the whole group and the counsellors kept encouraging him, yelling to him to keep going, to take one more step. Proudly, he made it to the top to successfully ring the cow bell. I was thinking that this would be a one shot deal… o.k., at least he tired it *sigh… I was surprised as I turned around and found him climbing up again.
All three of my children on the Rock Climbing Wall: DD2 in red, DD1 in pink, DS1 in the striped fleece
This time it was smoother, faster and with less hesitation. He had watched his sister tackle the wall (actually race each other to the top). He was taking in the techniques that he needed to conquer the wall. Then, he just went ahead and did it again!
- successfully Rock Climbing– TWICE check
We then proceeded to the low ropes (obstacle course). This is a series of ropes, swings, boards, & barrels that you climb, swing on, tightrope walk, pull yourself on and balance on. Once again, he tackled it with some trepidation but overall was intrigued by the challenge.
Remember this is a very analytical kid so doing something for the ‘thrill’ of it is not his usual motivation. Being able to unravel the mystery of how to accomplish the task is quite another. I didn’t make the connection with video games until later.
Do you see the connection?
Well if you know anything about Mario Brothers or Kirby or Pikman, you know that they have to accomplish tasks in order to get the prize at the end. So H. was looking at the low ropes as just another puzzle to solve. His take on this physical task was about problem solving not physical strength.
So the fact that he could understand how to tackle the two horizontal barrels and conquer them (as opposed to both his sisters falling off – and failing) was a huge confidence booster.
Ontario Pioneer Camp has a few key elements that would help H. become a more confident boy: a loving supportive, mature and professional staff. Yes, the male counsellors were encouraging and understanding of his hesitation. However true to form, H managed to charm one of the female counsellors. Courtney was incredible with him as she encouraged him to go climb the 45 foot pole and go on the zip line in the more challenging Zip Line and High Ropes course.
The Zip Line & High Ropes course at OPC is new, extremely safe and very, very challenging. I was amazed at how H. climbed up the poll with minimal hesitation. He did not, however, have any hesitation stepping off the zip line platform. I think that the climb up the rock climbing wall helped him overcome the challenge of climbing the very high utility pole. The encouragement from Andrew (Lead of the Adventures Camps) was also very helpful.
- successfully jumping off the ZIP LINE check
Another challenging activity that we tried was archery. First of all, who knew it would be so difficult. I mean it seems simple enough when you saw it in the Hunger Games. Katniss did it with her eyes closed. You just pull out an arrow from your trusty backpack, aim and shoot. right? Seems simple enough. I had a tough time co-coordinating all that I had to do but H. seemed to have master the stance pretty easily.
As per his usual-self, he wanted to just fling a few arrows up above the target so they would go flying into the forest. “Nope” I said, keep it focused. I have to say that this activity made me a bit nervous because H. does not always take in the actions in his surroundings. So he might just pick that arrow that was 5 feet from the platform ‘because its so close’. Ugh… these are the little things that I worry about.
But for naught… there was a counsellor there (Courtney – again) to guide and explain to him the safety issues. So he tried and conquer this too.
- successful launching of arrows check
On to our next task.
I am not a boater. I don’t like going in boats: lasers, catamarans, row boats, pontoons, motor boats, kayaks, you name it in boating and I avoid it. I need to take some serious boaters exam or instructions before I get into a boat again. It is clear to me I need to learn more about boat safety… but I digress.
The one type of boat I really am not keen on is canoes… and not just any canoes but WAR canoes or Voyageur canoes. Why you ask? Well, because you are in a huge canoe with a lot (and I mean a lot) of other people (adults, kids, everyone). As more get in, it gets heavier & heavier. You usually have a few guides and the rest of you are paddling, trying to keep the canoe afloat.
Stop the madness and let me out…I was not keen on getting into these boats but show this fear to my kids… I will not do. So I got daughter to take my son in the canoe without me.
Let me be perfectly clear AT NO TIME WERE ANY OF THE PEOPLE IN THE BOAT IN ANY DANGER. The staff are all professionals and very skilled, there was a small motor boat (that I was in) circling around all the canoes ensuring everyone was safe. This was not their issue… it was (is) clearly mine.
As you can see, my son, was not impacted by my anxiety because he is looking rather happy about the whole thing. So…
- successful paddling across a lake in a war canoe check
Once we were at the Girl’s Camp the kids had the opportunity to go flying down the water slide into the cold, cold water. To say the least, I was stunned when my son wanted to go down it. He was all for it and swoosh… down he came.
- successful sliding down monster slide check
As you can tell, there were many firsts during our weekend at Ontario Pioneer Camp. There was nothing that he didn’t like and wasn’t encouraged to try. He left a happy guy but more importantly he asked: “When can I go back?”
Disclosure: My family was invited to Ontario Pioneer Camp to experience what they had to offer. No other compensation was received. All opinions and reviews of the camp are written by Margarita Ibbott of DownshiftingPRO. This is one of a series of post that I have chosen to write – because OPC is THAT good.. Here was the first.