References & Stories
One of the most important things that OHEYS does, I think, is to provide a nurturing environment for autistic children to socialize together. Our son could relax, knowing that if he had a problem with something, that no one would think poorly of him for it. If he yelled or got upset or needed to sit by himself for a little while, none of the other kids were going to make fun of him or think he was weird. And of course, he was accepting of others’ behaviour because he knows what it’s like. I think this kind of an environment is tremendously freeing for the kids. They don’t have to worry about acceptance, so they can go ahead and ask a friend to play, or accept an invitation to play without fear of being rejected or mocked. It helps them build social skills that they can then turn around and use in the less-accepting environments that most of them face during the regular school year.
I would just like to say that this camp has been one of the most positive experiences in our child’s life. There is so much variety in the activities that every child has something they love. The atmosphere is evident. The training coaches and volunteers receive ensures that everyone involved is on the same page, and that the most important thing is the kids. The young coaches are energetic, positive, professional and patient. From the moment you walk through the door you feel welcome, and the children quickly feel safe and relaxed … which, with this special group, is no small feat!
“It’s not an easy world for autistic children, or for their parents and siblings. There are certain things — standard childhood games, activities and conversations — that parents of normal children get to take for granted. As parents of autistic children we don’t take these things for granted. We can’t. Our children don’t play easily with other children. We can’t just drop them off at soccer practice or send them outside to play with the kids next door. The older they get, the more socially isolated and removed they get, even if they get A’s in math. At OHEYS camp, the thing that strikes me is how much FUN the kids are having. Regular, kid-type fun! It re-charges everyone’s emotional batteries and leaves us all (both parents and children) with memories that help get us through the hard days during the rest of the year.”
“Congratulations… to the Winnipeg Optimal Health Early Years Sports Club (OHEYS) for being named recipient of the Mayor’s Volunteer Service Award for providing physical activity programming for children with autism. It is because of organizations such as yours, and the contributions you have made to sport development, that we have a thriving sport delivery system in the province.”
-Jeff Hnatiuk, President & CEO, SPORT MANITOBA
“I would like to share information regarding the OHEYS Sports Program Camp and the valuable asset it is to the community in which I work. I am a Social Worker with Children’s DisAbility Services and provide services to families with children with disabilities. For many families finding appropriate skill development/recreational services is very difficult. Their children often do not fit into the mainstream programming and, when accessed, did not result in a positive experience. Having a disability should not preclude children and their families from accessing resources that are otherwise available to all community members.
The OHEYS program recognizes the unique needs of this population, and does a great job of meeting the gap in our community in the following ways: *It provides individual, developmentally appropriate intervention strategies to engage the child in various activities, *Strategies are goal oriented to support the child to reach his or her greatest potential and to achieve success, *The program is affordable and accessible, culturally sensitive to all participants, and provides a much needed break to parents from care giving demands, *It helps to normalize a camp experience and often parents/children make valuable connections that sometimes foster on-going relationships.”
-Family Services Worker, Manitoba Children’s DisAbility Services
“Thanks again for letting myself and my supervisor come on-site to take a look at the camp program. She and I were both blown away by the creativity, the amount of work that is put into the camp and your knowledge and expertise.
One of my families shared with me her child’s summary report card from the first week and I must admit that I was absolutely floored. I was very impressed with the amount of detail, individualization and content that it entailed. What a great report for the family to have, to share and to keep. To think that you do that for each child is mind boggling, actually.”
-Family Services Worker, Manitoba Children’s DisAbility Services
“We strongly urge you to support OHEYS as it goes forward with its agenda. Our children and their families benefit from the existence of this program and it would be sorely missed if it was not able to continue. OHEYS has developed programming that provides motivated staff and volunteers with the opportunity to work closely with school-aged children as those children master a wide variety of skills. These skills, including physical activity and social engagement, contribute to a broad understanding of what goes into creating a healthy lifestyle. Wherever they may be on the spectrum of skill acquisition, participants are engaged almost immediately in full participation and feel safe and capable of developing themselves.”
-President, ASPERGER MANITOBA INC (AMI).
Working at the OHEY’s camp for children with autism this summer was one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had. I felt a great respect for the parents, supervisors and the children and felt I was involved in something very significant.
As I am entering my last year of education and looking forward to a career working with children, I was both excited and apprehensive about being an instructor in this summer camp. The coach orientation/training was involved and informative, so I felt well prepared. The level of support and supervision during the camp itself was exceptional. There was always someone to go to if there were questions or issues. There was a significant effort made to pair the children up with appropriate instructors. The pre-camp written family goals document, along with the training, gave great instructions on how to deal with each child’s particular personality and issues. Weekly reports were required to document the child’s progress and achievement of specific goals, which was particularly helpful for any child staying for more than one week.
The camp directors went to great pains to ensure there was always something for the children to do, regardless of their abilities. The amount of preparation that went into planning all the stations and activities at this camp was phenomenal. I just cannot believe how much work goes into making this camp so successful for each child, because they are all so different, in spite of each having a diagnosis on the autism spectrum.
I felt camp was a wonderful learning experience for me and I can take skills learned here into my future teaching job. I would strongly recommend this camp to anyone with a genuine interest in teaching children. I hope to participate in future camps.
-Krysta, 1-1 Camp Coach
My experience with OHEYS summer camp has been unlike anything I have ever taken on. This is my second year working for OHEYS, last year being a coach and this year being a director. Prior to my first year at camp, I had only worked with children with autism through pre-school Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) programs. Since last year’s camp coaching experience, I have had the chance during the past school year to see children with autism in the school system. I just finished my UM Masters degree and next year I will be employed as a Psychologist in a Winnipeg School Division.
Working with these children at the OHEYS summer camp is such a different experience than working with them in ABA or school programs. Whereas most of the programming in ABA and in the school is conducted one-to-one with a tutor or an educational assistant, camp is all about interacting with other individuals. Camp is set up to be a successful environment for these children so they are able to work on essential social skills such as asking a friend to play or saying hello and being greeted in return. They can practice a physical skill repeatedly in a 1-1 setting before they go into the group to play a game that may involve 3-4 different specific skills to be successful. Such simple things are so rewarding for these children, since they often don’t get the opportunity to experience the same level of success in other environments.
As a director, I have been able to experience just how much effort, patience, and devotion is required for camp to take place each summer. The planning, the organizing, the researching, goals, reports, set-up etc. is an absolutely staggering amount of work to be accomplished.
There were so many other progressive and exciting ideas we had this year while organizing camp that we were just not able to put into action because we simply did not have the time or the resources. Still, we were able to organize an amazing setting that was tailored to meet the highly individual needs of each camper, so as to provide them with a meaningful experience this summer. Seeing how valuable this camp is to each camper and their families makes all the hard work worthwhile.
-Candice, 1-1 Camp Coach/Camp Director
Thank you so very much for the opportunity to work at your camp! I think it’s a great camp for the kids and helps them use the communication skills at the camp outside of camp as well. You’ve definitely given me some new tools to use in the school and with the kids I do respite with. I would love to come back next summer!
Thank you for everything and for all the effort you put into this camp for it to work. Sometimes you might think all that extra effort may not show, but it really does. It’s a great camp!
-Vanessa, 1-1 Camp Coach
Having worked at the OHEYS Camp for the last 4 summers, I can say that this camp means so much to so many people. For me personally, it’s a challenge that I look forward to every year. For the kids, it’s a chance to meet new friends and spend time with old friends. And for the families it’s an opportunity to have someone really listen to what they need and want and try their best to accommodate that.
I love being a coach at camp. I have worked with kids with autism in a variety of settings including, but not limited to, private home programs, respite, and school. In other social settings, like school, teaching assistants have so many other things they need to work on with the child that physical skills and social skills often don’t get the time they need. I worked as a TA this year and I often felt as if there was no time to go over appropriate greetings and appropriate ways to interact with peers. I was often talking about it after the child had not been successful.
Plus, in my opinion, there isn’t enough focus in schools on physical health. Kids get a couple of gym classes a week and go home and watch TV. Many of the kids at the OHEYS Camp don’t yet have the coping skills to be on the soccer team or baseball team so they just don’t do anything. It’s hard for them to learn how to ride a bike so they just don’t. At OHEYS Camp, physical activity and social skills development are the focus. I love being able to set a child up for success with peers by role playing with a few of them in a small group so they know what to expect and can then be successful when in a larger group. I have seen it time and time again when people come in saying this kid can’t do this or they can’t do that, and all it really takes is some solid work on modeling and role playing, and soon the kid is giving eye contact, stopping to say ‘hi’ to peers, calling each other by their names and inviting each other to play.
Whoever thinks that these kids can’t learn REALLY need to come out and see this program in action! Every year kids surprise me with how much they can accomplish in their short time at camp. Every year kids make friends with all their fellow campers. The general rule at camp is that if a friend asks you to play, you accept. The truth is that most of these kids don’t have friends at school for one reason or another, and a lot of them are fully aware of it. How difficult it must be, to be in school and have no friends. Camp is set up so all the kids will be friends with each other. This gives them confidence and they refer to each other, not as “the other kids” but as their friends. They really do bond with each other in the short amount of time they have together.
These kids may not approach other kids at school to initiate play because likely they have been turned down so many times they are expecting rejection. This is particularly true when they have to join a group playing any kind of sports activity at recess. I’ve worked with kids at Camp who refused in the beginning to play with the other kids because they were convinced the others would say no. They are just so used to being rejected, that’s all they know. After a while at camp, however, these kids are going up to other kids independently and asking to join in on their game. Then, with the 1-1 coach support, they are assisted throughout the game in working on specific behaviours, skills and social language towards their peers.
This is what INCLUSION is all about – not just talking about it, but getting in there and making it happen successfully! Their confidence is built up so quickly because camp is set up for these kids to be successful. It’s important to know that real life isn’t like camp – kids at school are going to say no and decline invitations to play – but we’re doing several things at camp. First of all, we hope that kids will make learn how to make meaningful connections with other kids. We’re also trying to give the kids dialogue so they know what to say and how to ask to play. If they ask nicely “hey, can I join your basketball game” rather than running into the game and stealing the ball, other kids are more inclined to accept.
And finally– the families. I’ve worked with a lot of the families from camp in their home programs or as a respite worker. I know how hard these families work, trying to get the support their child needs. These kids would not be successful at other day camps, like Mini U – not because they can’t be successful at all, but because the set-up at other day camps is not conducive to their success. They may not get an aide and even if they do, that aide may not be trained appropriately to work successfully with that child.
At OHEYS Camp, all the coaches are trained and their focus is to include the child in camp. A child who lacks age appropriate coping skills and who is sent to Mini U is likely to be taken out of the group because they’re hard to handle. At OHEYS Camp, all the kids are included, regardless of physical, cognitive, or language ability. The focus is on inclusion and success. I think that’s why parents really love OHEYS Camp – because they know when their child comes to camp, the coach and everyone around that child is rooting for his/her success. Parents drop their kids off and coaches ask things like “did she sleep well last night?” or “has he had breakfast?” – they are looking out for that child and parents can tell the coaches what’s happened overnight and how the morning went, so the coach is prepared for the day. It’s a friendly and approachable environment.
Parents always have to push for these kids and people may think they’re obsessed or controlling or something, but at OHEYS Camp, we want the parents to have input and we want to know what’s going on so their child can be successful. And as a side note, camp coaches often end up working as respite workers for these families, so you can see there are real relationships being built.
Overall, OHEYS Camp is an awesome camp for coaches, kids and parents. Coaches learn a lot about positive teaching methods and about inclusion and adapting. Kids make real connections and leave with social skills that will help them at school and in their everyday life. And parents know that their child’s best interest is in mind – this camp isn’t about making it easy for the coaches, it’s about what’s best for the kids.
-by Myriam, 1-1 Camp Coach/Camp Director
I just wanted to say that I had an amazing time at camp this summer. What you do is so incredible, so well organized and I definitely love being a part of it. Being involved with the camp was just so awesome. I learned so much and I am so grateful for the experience. I could see the kids really improving in their skills and participating in a really meaningful way with their fellow campers. I can’t tell you how exciting that was to be part of. I could feel that I was really making a difference (although it sure was a lot of hard work)! Make sure to keep me on your list because I would love to be a part of the camp next year as well. Thanks for everything!
-Sandra, Camp Youth Volunteer
My friend and I came as camp volunteers for the first time. Camp was so fun. I got to do a lot of different things like take pictures of the kids for the memory book pages (my favourite, because I go to know all the kids really fast). I took a LOT of pictures and coaches were always calling for a camera to capture the moment. Getting good pictures of smiley kids was sometimes a challenge! I have to say that lunchtime was pretty busy. Thanks for letting me swim in the pool on pool days! The kids just loved the farm and so did I. The tiny kittens were so cute! Everyone was working so hard all day long at camp. I can’t believe how fast the day went.
-Janine, Camp Youth Volunteer
My brother was a camper and I’m glad I got a chance to work as a volunteer. There was a LOT of work to do at camp, setting up equipment stations and always moving things all over the place. Pirate day was my favourite. I got to see a lot of other kids with autism and my brother didn’t stand out as being so different like he is at school. It was great to see him trying to play with other kids and every day there were a lot of new ideas. Everyone said “Great Idea” a lot. There were some other volunteers who had brothers there too and if there were some problems any of the kids were having with things, everyone was just cool with that.
-Jonah, Camp Youth Volunteer
Camp was incredibly fun. It was well organized and I loved working with the kids. One week I ran the science centre and it was amazing. The kids loved it. There were magic muffins that exploded with baking soda and vinegar. There was a balloon experiment where you could blow up a balloon with carbon dioxide in a bottle. We made goop and lots of sticky, messy things to get your hands in and explore. Kids also loved the painting centre, so I did a lot of clean-up at that station.
In the gym I got a chance to help the coaches with skills the kids were learning, which sure was a lot of fun. I highly enjoyed playing inside and outside small group games with the kids and seeing their happy faces running around in each direction. I’m glad I could volunteer. Not only did I do myself a favour by having fun and learning a lot, but I feel that I really helped the kids as a station leader and a peer model. I like how the coaches and directors made all the volunteers feel their jobs were just as important to the camp as everyone else’s.
-Victoria, Camp Youth Volunteer
Davis enjoyed doing everything that camp had to offer. He particularly enjoyed the Nutrition Centre and lunch time fun. At the Nutrition Centre, he just LOVED playing the ‘Baking with Davis Show’. Then the ‘Cooking with Kayla and Baking with Davis show’ just cracked me up. I thought this was the just greatest thing and cutest idea ever to get Davis interested in talking about nutritious food AND responding to other children the way he did.”
“Thank you so much for an amazing camp experience for our son. Just to let you know that LUNCH PROVIDED AT CAMP was one of the HUGE BENEFITS to our family. WOW, what a vacation for me; not having to prepare his lunch each night before camp! Same with all your snacks and drinks! Just knowing that every effort was being made to expose our son in a really planned and structured way to healthy foods and new foods (dragon fruit, snap peas, hummus, deli meats), and to get him to try those foods in a fun and reinforcing way, was so unbelievable. Thank you!”