I have been a part of the Camp Lee Mar team for over 20 years. During that time I have answered many parent questions, many camper questions, and a great deal of questions from my own children who spend their summers with me at Camp Lee Mar.
My children have a unique understanding of children with additional needs. They have grown up spending their summers at Camp Lee Mar. They understand that at this summer camp special needs does not define our campers. I love so much about camp, from the fact that a program can bring people from all over the world to work together for the benefit of our campers, to the fact that my own children just see people as people, campers or staff.
This was made really clear recently when my youngest child asked me “Do I have special needs?” When I asked her what she meant by her question I realized this question had a much deeper meaning than I was giving it credit for. She went on to explain that she understands that all the campers have things that they are really good at and things that they need to work on, but so does she. She went on to list all the things she is good at, and the things she needs to work on. She told me she is a good friend, but sometimes she can be grumpy or say things without thinking if she gets mad. She told me that she is super strong and can climb the rope at a gymnastics class, but she still has trouble riding a bike with no training wheels. What my eight-year-old was saying in her own way was everyone needs to work on something, so why are the kids at camp any different? She understood, in her own way, that at this summer camp special needs truly does not define our campers.
So we sat down and talked about what “special needs” means for some of our campers. We talked about the fact that yes, everyone has things they need to work on, but some of the things our campers need to work on need to be broken down a little more or may take more time to understand and learn. We talked about down syndrome, autism and genetic differences. It was quite a big conversation to have with an eight-year-old, but she got it and asked some amazing questions along the way. At no time did she lose sight of the fact that these campers are her friends. She would tell me each camper’s areas of strength in her group, usually accompanied by some funny camp memory of that camper. She talked about an older camper in another group who uses an IPad to communicate, and another camper who is non-verbal that does not yet use a device to communicate. She wanted me to know that just because they cannot talk like she does they still understand everything and want you to talk to them. It definitely was a proud parent moment to see her understand our campers have additional needs, but that at this summer camp special needs is not the focus of our campers but just another part of who they are.
So in the end she answered her own question “Do I have special needs?” Her answer was “I might not need to work as hard to learn new things, so I don’t have special needs like my friends at Camp Lee Mar, but I can still set myself goals like my friends do.”
At the end of our conversation my daughter did not walk away with two defined sets of friends, her Camp Lee Mar friends and her “mainstream” friends. She walked away with a clearer understanding of friendship in general, an understanding that different is not less, and a very clear understanding that everyone has room to grow!
Written by Lynsey Trohoske
My name is Lynsey Trohoske, I am the assistant director at Camp Lee Mar. I have three amazing children, my middle child happens to be on the autism spectrum and is a camper at Lee Mar. I joined camp as a counselor in 1998 and loved the campers and their families so much that Camp Lee Mar became my second home!