I helped run my first I Can Teens Camp last weekend. We took 40 teenagers away for a few days of fun, adventure activities, group challenges, and plenty of opportunity for self expression. The main aim was to give kids an encouraging environment where they could build their confidence, make new friends and learn how to work with other people. It was amazing to see the powerful combined effect of such simple things. It’s not that we did anything that ‘special’, but the results were extraordinary.
The first night was really hard for a lot of people. Thrust into a completely new environment, with so many new people and so much new stimulus. It would be natural for anyone to feel overwhelmed by that. Many would have just as soon gone back home, retreating to the safety of the familiar. But the beautiful thing was that we made it through that difficult time, thus opening the door to all the fantastic experiences camp had to offer. For some of the kids this amounted to no less than conquering their greatest fear!
One of the first questions I often get is something like “How autistic were these kids?” I know what you mean but it’s hard to answer. I guess the first thing to say was that there was a lot of variety. To limit your imagination somewhat, no one was so severe as to needed a personal carer, but we had everything from your classic recluse happily occupied in their own world, to those which would seem to the untrained eye as not having any autistic traits at all. So my description is more of a ‘crazy mixed bag’ rather than a stereotype of any kind. There is an international Aspergers group on facebook and the description says ‘We are a bunch of “misfits” trying to figure out how things work’, so I think that’s pretty apt.
It was a great experience for me too and I even happened to conquer a few fears of my own. Specifically, I re-learned how to do a back flip on a trampoline. I could do them when I was 15, but then I had a traumatic ‘near miss’, almost landing on the steel bars, and since then I couldn’t bring myself to try again. This weekend I was determined to face that fear! I proved to myself what I already knew in my head, that back flips are actually a LOT easier to control than front flips, which I have no trouble with.
I was also of the belief that I was terrible at ‘encouraging’ people. My past experience has been that every time I try to encourage someone my actions have the opposite effect. I’m still not exactly an expert, but this weekend I tried again. I wasn’t always successful, but once or twice I felt like my words made a difference. It is truly incredible to watch someone muster the courage to tackle what was previously an impossible boundary and do something they never dreamed they would be able to do, even if that milestone is something as simple as talking in front of a group, patting a horse, or trying archery for the first time. The incredible part is not the achievement itself, it’s the amount of courage and determination it took to get there.
Anyway, so much for a ‘quick’ update!
Till next time 🙂