He made friends!
The ordinary rites of summer for most kids, but a new world for my son Ben, who just spent his first week at overnight camp at age 15.
Ben has multiple disabilities, and we’ve never been able to find a sleepover camp that could meet his needs. Many are targeted to typical kids and aren’t physically accessible. Others are open only to kids with a specific disability.
Ben went to Camp Kennebec on Bull Lake, a “non-competitive, inclusive” camp for children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, learning disabilities, behaviour issues and autism.
He was the first camper with physical disabilities who didn’t speak, but they were willing to make it work for Ben, who attended with a support worker fluent in sign language.
The camp isn’t fully accessible, so we borrowed an all-terrain wheelchair from Bloorview and they put Ben in the cabin closest to the eating hall and lake. The boys in his cabin were significantly younger than him, but closer to his size (he’s tiny) and developmental level.
I was a nervous wreck after we dropped him off – the first time we’d been separated in six years. But soon I received an e-mail, and then another, from Ben’s worker Coco, and what I read astounded me.
Everyone has taken Ben under their wing and have been going out of their way to include him.
Today he…went down the zip line. Getting him up there was orchestrated by no less than five Camp Kennebec staff with me down below shouting up and taking photos.
After that we went for a super fast speed boat ride. I don’t think my photos can possibly show you just how much he loved it.
Yesterday we were on the sailboat, when a big gust of wind took over and we tipped! We are all okay but Ben did get a goosebump on his forehead. He was cracking up laughing.
Today’s was Eric’s birthday. He is in Ben’s cabin. Ben was so excited about the party (ice-cream sundaes and cake).
Ben has earned two merit points.
We’re taking a trip to an island tomorrow. The wheelchair probably won’t work so one of the stronger staff is going to piggyback him up.
Ben went fishing and after many seaweed ‘fish,’ he caught a real sunfish. He was so excited.
Tonight at announcements I got a little emotional. Ben told me he wanted to tell everyone about catching his fish. He stood up and I knelt in front of him to interpret. He clearly signed: “Today I go boat to island. I go fish and I catch fish. I’m happy.” He got a big round of applause and Donz and I started to cry. I explained that I was very moved because I love seeing more of Ben meaning what he is thinking.
Coco caught a beautiful moment on video of Ben on the trampoline. He doesn’t really have the strength or coordination to propel himself up and down, so he likes to lie down while the others bounce. Ben giggled insanely as a teenager bounced higher and higher and higher. The teenager, who has a developmental disability, then turned to a counsellor and yelled, beaming with satisfaction: “Look, I’m helping. Look, I’m helping.”
Camp Kennebec surpassed all of my expectations and dreams. The first thing the counsellors said when we pulled up was: “Can he stay for another week?”
Another staff member talked about how much the staff and campers got from Ben – seeing him succeed at so many things despite great obstacles.
“If I could give Ben the most wonderful surprise,” one camper said, “I would give him a voice.”
It wasn’t apparent to this camper, but Camp Kennebec had already done just that: for one glorious week, Ben was successful, included and heard.