“Being at Pine Tree Camp made Emily more confident and gave her an experience of acceptance that has positively impacted her ever since. It really set her up for going into middle school.”
That’s how Emily’s mother, Lucy, describes how Pine Tree Camp helped her daughter. Emily is 11 years old and this summer was her very first time at camp. She has Asperger’s syndrome and was nervous about going.
“She said things to me like ‘I don’t know if I want to be in bathing suit. I don’t know anyone.’ Then when she got there she saw another girl wearing the same bathing suit as hers and they immediately starting talking.”
Lucy stayed in the family cabin with Emily’s brother Bryce, who has autism. Emily was planning to stay with them, but, when they arrived, she decided to try staying in Cabin 1 with other campers instead and she ended up staying there the whole time.
“Everyone was very accepting and there was no judgment. That made a huge difference for her and she really came out of her shell. She’s absolutely thrilled to go back next year and has stayed in touch with some of the friends she met.”
Bryce, who is 13, also came out of his shell.
“It was a real milestone for him to enjoy being around other kids. The water was magical for him. He went swimming every day. That’s something I didn’t expect him to do.”
Lucy thinks that a lot of parents perceive summer camp as a place where participation in all activities is mandatory, and that can feel intimidating and hold them back.
“Pine Tree Camp is not like that at all. You can participate in what you want to, in the way you want to.”
Bryce wanted to build a birdhouse, but it was hard for him to do it in the regular classroom setting with the other campers.
“He has sensory issues and the banging bothered him. So I asked if we could go upstairs and build a birdhouse by ourselves. The staff was very accommodating.”
For Lucy, one of the biggest things that helped both Emily and Bryce was the experience of not feeling different or alone.
“Kids on the spectrum feel alone, and being with other kids on the spectrum showed them that they’re not alone and that there are people all around the world who are just like them.”
It also helped Lucy to see that she, as a parent, is not alone.
“As difficult as it is for me to have kids with special needs, it was very eye opening to meet other parents and see what a huge commitment it is to have a child with challenges like epilepsy. As hard as it is for me, other parents are dealing with things that are much harder.”
It was also very positive for her as a parent to have the freedom to let her children be more independent than she normally does.
“As a parent, it’s not what you expect. It’s easy to be apprehensive about trying something new, but being there with your child will surprise you. You need to give it a chance.”