Dylan Crossley returned home from his first day of a new summer camp in Hantsport with great news for his mother.
He just had the “best day ever.”
“He said to me, ‘Mommy, no one laughed at me today and no one pointed at me. They just played with me,’” recalls Dylan’s mother, Nicole Henry.
It was the first time the six-year-old was able to go to summer camp like his older sister.
He was the one coming home with camp stories and a camp t-shirt with his own handprint smeared on it with paint.
“He could just be himself and that was the best thing about it,” said Henry.
“It brought tears to my eyes.”
Perhaps getting caught up in the excitement at camp, Dylan stepped outside of his comfort zone long enough to try new foods, learn new words and make new friends.
“More of this needs to happen,” said Henry, who believes programs with resources for children with autism should be available year round throughout Hants County.
“This camp has brought even parents together.”
Henry’s praise for the developing program is music to camp director Annette Lewis’ ears.
Lewis chose to host the first Autism Summer Day Camp for the eastern region of the Annapolis Valley in her hometown of Hantsport from July 14-18 to meet the needs of families in an area that is often overlooked. Before this, many of the participants travelled to Middleton to attend an Autism Summer Day Camp.
“My own son attends this camp, and it's the first time he has ever had the chance to go to a camp where I know everyone will ‘get’ him, understand his needs and wants, and be respectful of them,” said Lewis.
Eleven campers from Gaspereau to Bramber signed up for the program funded by the Annapolis Valley Chapter of Autism Nova Scotia.
“It's an opportunity for them to socialize with others, play, and experience new activities in a structured and safe setting. They get to be like any other kid who goes to day camp,” said Lewis.
Several Annapolis Valley Regional School Board employees that have already worked with the campers in their respective schools offered to help out as staff.
“All wanted to be here, and I am so grateful,” said Lewis, who noted that many of camp staffers signed on as volunteers.
Lewis said Autism Spectrum Disorder largely impacts the ways in which a person socializes and communicates. Autism Summer Day Camp staff have a number of resources on hand to meet the individual support and sensory needs of each camper.
The half-day camp sessions, based in the Hantsport Baptist Church, included such activities as craft time, cooking, music therapy, free play in a bouncy castle and the school playground, swimming, nature walks, a scavenger hunt, a gardening lesson with Tim Carr from TapRoot Farms and a visit to Hantsport’s splash pad.
Midway through the week, smiles and laughter from campers and staff alike told Lewis the camp is worth continuing.
She hopes to see more campers, school-aged individuals between the ages of five and 21, enrolled next year.
“I am seeing all the campers laugh and have a great time,” she said. “That is what this camp is all about.”
Henry is confident Lewis can count on seeing at least one return customer next year, even if it means commuting from Bramber to Hantsport for another five-day stretch.
“Annette Lewis is an angel for putting this on,” Henry said.