This article was submitted by Lesley Fraser, Camp Royall Assistant Director.
This weekend, young adults with high-functioning autism or Asperger’s Syndrome will gather at Camp Royall for one of the six adult retreats we offer throughout the year. It is often hard for me to believe that as the assistant director at Camp Royall, it’s my job to spend the weekend with these guys. After each retreat, I am definitely tired, but I go home still laughing about things that happened. I learn so much from our participants and feel extremely lucky to call them my friends.
Friendship, in fact, is what the retreats are all about. Our participants tell us the most common reason for them to attend the retreats is to spend time with friends.
“When Dan arrived at Camp Royall – a little late – last Friday, I got to witness three of his friends walk up to him, hug him, and welcome him into the camp, genuinely pleased to see him. As the parent of a young person who has been socially isolated his whole life, witnessing this was a beautiful moment for me. Having a place where Dan can go and be himself, with like-minded young people, is something we, as a family, treasure.” – a mother
We started the retreats about three years ago to provide our participants with a chance to get away from the real world, be independent, and have a great time with friends. The retreats were a new venture for me and for Camp Royall back then, and it has definitely been a learning curve to make them the best they can be. During our retreat weekends, we have one or two paid staff members who stay throughout the weekend, and we seek volunteers (usually our summer staff) to hang out and join the fun, allowing us to keep costs low for participants. We have had to find a balance between providing enough structure to enable our participants, while also empowering them to have free time and opportunities to choose to participate in activities that they are interested in.
Our weekend schedule includes activities that everyone joins: “get to know you” activities on Friday evening, an outing on Saturday (recently these have included hiking at Jordan Lake, bowling and going to the movies), and dinner at a local restaurant on Saturday evening. There are also optional activities that we hope our participants will enjoy, but not all choose to participate in: yoga, pottery, hiking, campfires, and getting up on time for breakfast! The schedule includes periods of “free time” during which we encourage our participants, through the use of an adapted “choice board,” to ask friends to join them in available activities. Usually this time is spent playing games in our Activity Center, watching movies together, or enjoying the outdoors.
While the participants are having fun at Camp Royall, their families at home also benefit.
“Dan needs a lot more help than most 23-year-olds to carry out simple, everyday tasks, and is dependent on us to drive him everywhere. Camp Royall is a chance for him to do his own thing and have a break from us for a few days. It is also respite for us all, including Dan’s younger brothers, when we have a little space to do things a bit differently at home. We are so grateful to have such an amazing resource, in a beautiful setting, near our home.”
During the past three years, our retreats have grown, and we hope that will continue! We have a great group of regular participants, but we also add one or two new friends each time. We just had our biggest retreat so far with 18 participants.
What do our participants tell us is their least favorite thing about the retreats? The answer, most often, is leaving.ASNC, Asperger Syndrome, Asperger's Syndrome, autism, autism adults, autism camp, autism retreat, autism society north carolina, autism society of NC, Autism Society of North Carolina, Autism spectrum, Camp, Camp Royall, High-functioning autism, respite, retreat