This is a post by Beth R. Weiner, Director of Camp Good Times of Charleston, as well as the mother of two campers, one of whom has autism.
For the past 11 years I have had the opportunity to send my boys to a great summer day camp. They get to go swimming everyday, shoot baskets, do arts and crafts, go on field trips to the movies, water parks, mini golf, get computer time, and see the friends they have made over the years. Luckily for me, there is Camp Good Times of Charleston, a summer day camp for kids with autism. One of my boys is diagnosed with autism, which can make it difficult, if not impossible, to attend a typical summer camp. I am also fortunate to be the Camp Director.
Camp Good Times has been operating since the 1970s when it was created as extended school year by Dr. Lucia K. Horowitz for the Charleston County School District. We are now a 501©3, non-profit. Camp Good Times is a great camp experience because not only do we offer summer camp fun, but campers get to go to camp with kids not diagnosed with autism. These children are considered “typically” developing and all the kids are grouped by age. In a lot of cases it is hard to tell the “diagnosed” kids from the “typical” kids. It doesn’t matter; every child who goes to Camp Good Times is assured of a fun filled and safe summer camp experience.
That is what families are looking for, camp, not school, not therapy, but camp.
One of the ways, the most important way, we do this is that we hire adults. Our staff, who return year after year, are area educators. 80% of the staff has been at camp for at least 5 years. Hiring area teachers and classroom assistants is great on several levels. They bring a maturity to the position, they are responsible, they understand children and most importantly they learn about autism and its many faces. After camp is over, they return to their schools and have new positive ideas of what a child with autism is like, is capable of and become strong advocates for them at their schools.
Imagine this scene, families dropping off their camper in the morning, 112 campers coming in at 8:30, chaos, yes but that’s a typical morning at a summer camp. There is something that happens to families when they see all these other families, who have the same issues that they have. They look around and see that they are not alone, maybe they start talking to each other, make a connection, exchange an idea. These hallway “support groups” have always done me more good than any formal parent support group. They see their kids in action, they are being themselves and they are accepted. Sometimes a parent is overwhelmed, they thought they had it so bad, but in reality they are just like some of the others, some find themselves thinking they don’t have it so bad and reach out to others to share something they found works for their child.
There is a camper who goes to my school. At school I never saw him smile, as he dragged himself from class to resource class. At camp he was a star. He was funny, had friends, his counselors loved him. Now at school I see him every morning, we high five, side five and low five, and for a moment, I see that camper again.
To learn more about Camp Good Times of Charleston go to our website
Here’s to happy campers !!!
Camp Director, Camp Good Times of Charleston, Inc.