Autism weekends support 12-14 girls and boys aged 6-17 (sometimes older) who fall on the higher end of the autism spectrum. Many of these campers require 1:1 support for eating, showering, toileting and other aspects of self-care. Activities include swimming at the local YMCA, toboganning, baking, crafts, hiking and music. The children with autism look forward to the fun of these weekends; the respite is invaluable for parents and siblings.
Girls weekends occur four times per year for females aged 6-17 with the same diagnoses as our boys. Girls form and cement relationships through crafts, baking, tobogganing, board games, drama games and sports. Approximately 20 girls are able to attend each weekend thanks to our dining hall winterization. Many of the friendships created on these weekends continue out of camp and become life-long. Some of our girls require 1:1 support while others manage with 1:2 counselling. For a number of years, the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration have financially supported this program with a $5,000 annual grant.
Our Boys weekends can now serve 20 boys from 6-17 years of age thanks to our winterized dining hall. Our boys live with diagnoses such as Aspergers syndrome, ADHD, oppositional defiant disorder, learning disabilities, anxiety and mood disorders. Some participants require 1:1 support while other manage with 1:2 counselling. Weekend activities incldue sports, crafts, tobogganing and other snow fun, baking, high ropes and canoeing when the weather allows. Often, these weekends have themes such as army or superheroes. Boys' weekends are filled with enthusiasm, intensity and exciting programming.
Camp Winston provides two weekends for grandparents (mostly grandmothers) who are raising their grandchildren with special needs full time. Many of these children are our campers and feel alone and out of place in their complex situations. Aside from having family fun, grandparents enjoy respite and time for mutual support who their grandchildren participate in camp activities and support groups. This is, for most of our "Grands", the only place they can have a break, be understood and discuss their lives with people who truly understand. On average, there are about 25 participants at these weekends.
Sibling Retreat Weekends
Aptly dubbed "What About Me?" our sibling weekends support brothers and sisters of exisiting campers, waitlisted campers and community families who are resourseful enough to find us. The weekends afford brothers and sisters of children with complex neurological challenges the opportunity to share experiences and learn skills and strategies to relate more compassionately with their brother or sister.
Siblings of our 'camp kids' suffer fear, embarrassment, anxiety, loneliness and stigma from peers and the greater society they encounter. They are also among the most deep thinking and sophisticated children we have ever encountered. Many of our siblings are shunned by peers because their siblings challenges 'may be contagious' or they assume the neurotypical sibling is just like his/her brother or sister with disabilities themselves. Often they cannot have friends visit or do school group work at home because the special needs sibling is volatile or possibly immunosuppressed and cannot tolerate house guests without risking aggressive meltdowns, illness or worse. Siblings are affected in many ways - emotional, physical, cognitive and spiritual, and require support on each of these levels. The needs of these "forgotten" children are consistently ignored by families who by necessity put the lion's share of their limited financial and emotional resources into their child with severe, multiple and compelling needs. Camp Winston consistently receives positive feedback from parents regarding their child's increased understanding, patience and ability to demonstrate new strategies. This, along with a b oost in self-esteem translates to improved family relationships for everyone.