The other day I was searching for something in our bookshelf and unearthed a treasure. It’s a book which was given to BJ as a memento from the Sony Foundation camp he attended while he was still in primary school. As I flicked through it memories came flooding back, as they do with these kinds of finds. You see, sending BJ to the camp took a huge leap of faith. He’d been to school camp before but that was with his teacher and staff who knew him well. When we were given the brochure for the Sony camp my reaction was “No way!” I couldn’t imagine how 17-year-old boys and girls could possibly look after all of BJ’s needs for 3 days. What would happen if he woke during the night? How would they manage to take him to the toilet and look after his personal care? What if, what if…………………… I had a million reasons why he shouldn’t go. But then I spoke to parents who had sent their kids and they spoke in such glowing terms about the whole experience. Hubby’s usually much happier to give these things a go than me and encouraged me to look into it further. A few of BJ’s school mates were applying and “What if?” turned into a very nervous, “Why not?” At least I knew he’d have some familiar faces joining him.
Forms were filled out, my mind raced through all the different scenarios and finally bags were packed and the day arrived. At the time when BJ did the camp there were a few private schools participating. The program has expanded and now 26 camps are held in 46 schools and four universities in Australia. In 2016 over 600 children with special needs had the opportunity to attend a Sony Foundation Camp.
When we arrived at the campus we were greeted by a happy and lively atmosphere. BJ was introduced to the boy that would be taking care of him for the 3 days, there was time to have a chat about his likes and dislikes and poor sleep routine and then it was time for parents to leave. BJ was full of smiles because he couldn’t wait to get on the miniature train that had been hired and was doing laps of the oval. There was no sad goodbye, just a big smile.
Hubby, AJ and I had a lovely weekend and anxiously returned at the end of camp. What we found was an extremely happy BJ who had not only survived, but thrived without us. The bond between BJ and the boy who had cared for him was evident (take a look at the pics of the two of them above). It seemed remarkable that in such a short time they had formed a bond.
There was great joy all around. Families were happy to be reunited and there was animated chatter from the carers sharing the activities of the weekend. Everyone joined together for lunch where we had time to hear more about the weekend. What struck me the most is the insight it had given the teens into life for a child with special needs and a greater understanding of the caring role parents take. BJ attended two of these camps and one of the teens commented, “I don’t know how you do it!” referring to BJ’s nocturnal wakings. The experience has remained with us as heartwarming and wonderful. A very special time for BJ and for us to see as his parents. I’m sure that in some way the students involved must have lasting effects with a new perspective and understanding.
The students produced a video which we were shown at the lunch and which we later received a copy of. It was the most played DVD in our house for a long time. It’s hard to express the joy of seeing the kids and carers all having such a good time. There was swimming, a trip on a ferry to the city, lunch, farmyard animals, craft, a disco, movie night and more. It was a weekend packed with fun. Teenagers are often portrayed as self-absorbed but the young adults and teens who volunteer for this program are the complete opposite.
Doctors, nurses, teaching staff and parents volunteer their time to ensure the medical safety of participants.
BJ’s friend who had higher support needs had 2 carers looking after him.
The camps have been operating since 1999.
If you are reading this and thinking, “But my child has high support needs, I just couldn’t do it,” be assured that many parents feel the same. Letting go is hard but this is a truly special experience. At least make an enquiry if you have a camp near you. The level of needs of the children attending vary greatly.
If you think this experience cured me from being a worrier you’d be wrong. You can read about my nerves when we took the first steps to respite here. It’s okay to be nervous and extremely normal, it’s just good if you can get beyond it so your child doesn’t miss out on experiences that could be awesome.
You can read more about the Sony camps here.
Expressions of interest can be lodged for the 2017 camps here.
If you know of a camp for kids or teens with additional needs (anywhere in the world), please share in comments below or over on Facebook
I read today that Camp Wamp in the US has just found a new home. This camp looks absolutely wonderful. If you live in the US you should definitely check it out.