Friday, August 22, 2014

Camp Emerge

I wish I could remember how I first heard of Camp Emerge.  Camp Emerge is a camp for families touched by autism held at Camp Victory in Millville, PA.  It was a wonderful opportunity for our family to connect with other families touched by autism.  Below is an excerpt from their website.

"Camp Emerge is a camp set up directly for the families of those touched by Autism. The camp is designed to help bring families together for a weekend, to work on their feelings, fears, dreams, and relationships with each other. It is designed to allow the family to sit back, relax and just be together without the worry of judgment or pressure to explain differences."

We arrived on Saturday, June 28th around 10am, checked in at the office, and unloaded the truck into our cabin.  The cabins are shared between families, normally three to four families in one cabin.  Our cabin happened to have only one other family.  The kids were super excited about the bunk beds, I think it may have been their favorite part!

Home for the Weekend!
Once we were settled into the cabin it was time to explore a little.  We made a short stop by the swings until Cullen spotted the bounce house.  The bounce house was another favorite!  After a little bouncing, our family gathered with all the other families in the cafeteria for the welcome and announcements.  Camp had officially started!!!

Too cute not to use this picture!
Events and activities were planned, but everything was loose.  We weren't required to attend anything. Available to us was biking, fishing, a nature center, wagon rides, swimming, arts and crafts, and a nighttime campfire with s'mores and camp songs.  The kids had a great time.  And it turns out Maggie is an excellent fisher!


What didn't I love about Camp Emerge?  Well, it was a big dose of reality.  Cullen was one of the youngest of the affected.  The oldest was probably in his mid-20s.  So a range in age of pre-school to graduate school.  It was as if the entire spectrum was exhibited.  There were kids on one end of the spectrum who were completely nonverbal, rocking, shouting out, kids who at the age of 11 who were still not toilet trained.  Then on the other end of the spectrum there were kids who were mainstreamed in school, and one beginning classes this fall to earn his master's degree, almost indistinguishable from his peers.  Spectrum.  And it left me wondering, which of these futures is in store for Cullen?   Is there any chance of regression?  While rare, I have heard stories of that happening.  Or is there a chance he could be the college graduate getting ready to start work on his master's degree?  Our future is so uncertain, which is true whether or not your family is an autism family.  I think autism just serves an extra dose of anxiety over that uncertainty.

What did I love about Camp Emerge?  I loved that we could follow Cullen's agenda.  The time in the pool was limited due to life guard availability, but other than that, we were left to do as we pleased.  If he wanted to throw rocks in the creek for an hour and a half (which he did), nobody questioned that or hurried us along to a different activity.  I loved that when I couldn't get him out of the bounce house that a volunteer stepped up to help me get to the parents' circle.  I loved the frankness and honesty from the other parents, because we all knew we were at least in the same pond if not in the same boat.  But most of all, I loved that not a soul there would judge my son for any behavior he may exhibit.  He could be himself, and I didn't once feel like I needed to explain.
"Nothing Great Was Ever Achieved Without Enthusiasm"

I would also like to mention that Camp Victory is a special place for all sorts of special kids.  They hold camp for kids affected by everything from autism, organ donation, chronic ventilators, heart disease, epilepsy, diabetes, cancer, spina bifida, deafness, skin disorders, and dwarfism.  It truly has been a blessing in our lives.  If you feel moved to make a contribution, you can do so on their website.

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