What better way to celebrate World Autism Awareness and Acceptance Day 2018 than to share it with the beautiful children and families at Camp Royall in Moncure, North Carolina! For those of you that are not familiar with Camp Royall, it is the nation’s largest and oldest camp for people with autism and serves thousands of people each year. Typical camp activities are offered such as swimming, boating, hiking, hayrides, arts and crafts, and zip lining. This picturesque 133-acre camp is centrally located in our state, approximately 40 miles west of Raleigh.
As this was our first visit to the camp, I was not sure exactly what to expect. But from arrival to departure, David Jr. and I were treated with nothing but kindness and acceptance.
It was certainly the most joyous of occasions. There were all kinds of events including bouncy houses, face painting, hay rides, boating, sensory play, a balloon artist, and something they call a zap line. Upon arrival, we converged upon the bouncy houses first, as I knew this would be David’s favorite. And it was most certainly the highlight of his day. There was no pushing or shoving. Just kids having fun and patiently waiting their turn.
I really must admit here that I was so very impressed with the good manners and behavior of all of our children. One would probably expect to see meltdowns and tantrums on such a hot day filled with crowds and long lines. But on the contrary, I personally witnessed some of the most well-behaved children today that I have ever seen. Quite the contrast from some of the “neurotypical” children I witnessed during a recent visit to Toys-R-Us, which was so bad that it quite frankly would make one rethink their birth control methods!
Next, we hiked over to the outdoor cookout of hamburgers and hot dogs. Of course, David was in heaven. We socialized with other families and made new friends. I talked with other parents whose children also had rare syndromes. I shared David’s story about Bardet- Biedl Syndrome. The whole day was euphorically void of the usual judgment, degrading stares, and whispered comments which can often be experienced by parents of children with autism and other special needs.
After lunch, we walked over to the dining hall building where we were told it was about a 30 minute wait for the balloon artist. Now, normally I would not have waited in such a long line, but David was mesmerized by one of these balloon octopus characters at lunch, and I knew he had his heart set on one. The 30 minute wait turned out to be just a little bit longer, but David and all of the other children waited so patiently. He loved watching his balloon being created and was quite happy with his masterpiece. Now keep in mind, I knew we had to get through the rest of this 80 degree day with this octopus, and I knew his latex life was short-lived. Hence the photograph was taken as evidence that we did once have this octopus. It took less than an hour before Mr. Octopus was down to one tentacle and no head!
After balloons, we were off to the Zap line! This is a version of a zip line with a seat and a harness for safety. As you can imagine, this is one of the more popular attractions at the camp. David watched patiently in anticipation and awe as the other children soared between two trees. Now when it was finally his turn, he decided he was not quite so sure about this zap line thing. In true David fashion, he did not want to let go of his sweet assistant’s hand. In the end, he did, however, fly like an eagle and then got a big hug from the caring volunteer!
After the zap line, it was time to leave for home. It was a long and tiring day for us both, but well worth the 1 ½ hour drive. David enjoyed a day full of exciting activities and new experiences to help him grow and gain confidence in his abilities. Before leaving, we received information on upcoming family events and summer camp.
We are so fortunate to have Camp Royall as a resource in North Carolina for the ever-growing autistic community. As a parent, it is such a comforting feeling to visit a place that feels totally safe and accepting, where our children and families are treated with the dignity, kindness, and acceptance that we all deserve.
HAPPY WORLD AUTISM AWARENESS AND ACCEPTANCE DAY!