Camp Prime Time holds a very special place in my heart.
With a child on the autism spectrum life can get a bit challenging. A child with autism spectrum disorder can be brilliantly intelligent in many ways but significantly challenged in social and communication skills. As a parent of a child with autism, it is very common for people outside your immediate family to think the child is spoiled and that the tantrums can be controlled in better ways. With this judgment, parents of children with disabilities can be left feeling inadequate or bewildered by their children’s behavior. The judgment and behavioral issues we face make going on vacation a particularly daunting task for many parents. The easy thing to do is for families to isolate and forgo vacation opportunities that would typically be fun and enjoyable to avoid the spotlight of an unordinary or unruly child. Oftentimes, stress outweighs enjoyment in an otherwise good vacation and isolation wins.
Early in my son’s life I discovered the true meaning of patience. Some activities were just too overwhelming to handle. My son would get overstimulated easily and throw tantrums until he was about eight years old. As he got a little older, we counted it as an accomplishment just to get him to say how he was feeling. Outsiders to the family would speculate that he was just a very whiny child, but little did they know we were just happy he was telling us how he felt and not throwing himself on the ground in a fit. My husband and I have spent many years working together to teach our son proper behavior and as a result he is able to manage fairly well.
For a long time, my husband and I were in denial of our son’s struggles and we were hopeful that he would outgrow these behaviors. He was 13 years old when he was diagnosed with “High Functioning” autism spectrum disorder. What that means is that he can hold a conversation but, among other things, does not interpret normal social and communication cues properly. Additionally, he has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, which only means his attention span is much shorter with great difficulty of learning in traditional ways. This was a devastating diagnosis because it meant his future wouldn’t be what our family expected. Our son wasn’t going to out-grow his idiosyncrasies like we had hoped. During this time, a psychologist painted a scenario so eloquently on the way my son will do life. He said that typical people will take a straight path to their destination of learning new things. My son will take the more scenic route that may have more obstacles along the way to learn the same things. As a result, he is not as mature as people his same age.
Camp Prime Time provides families with developmentally disabled or terminally ill children with a safe, fun, and accessible camping experience. I felt at ease knowing the people around me at Camp Prime Time would see my son with a unique personality and overlook his weaknesses. There are extra precautions set in place to keep participants safe, welcomed and entertained. Everything is wheelchair accessible, so trip hazards aren’t as bad. There are plenty of activities to keep children with short attention spans entertained. Activities like boating, wagon rides, arts and crafts, hiking, air hockey, ping pong, cards, and fishing are just a few examples.
I remember being able to take my son out on the water for the first time at Camp Prime Time knowing that he would have safety equipment available to use, and I could focus on his unique needs without being in the spotlight. He had so much fun, and we have many good memories from that day. The ride on a pontoon boat and fishing at the lake were activities that were special because we would not have been able to arrange them otherwise. Knowing the lake had been recently stocked with fish just for Camp Prime Time, was an optimistic experience to try.
As a part of his immediate support team, we were able to take my son’s grandparents along with us. My son, with his dad and Grandpa, were able to experience what it takes to prepare a fish to eat after catching it. This memory is special because his grandpa was diagnosed with Stage 3 Alzheimer’s shortly thereafter. Getting around the camp and on some of the trails around Camp Prime Time is forgiving so even those with mobility issues (like my son’s grandparents) were able to enjoy hikes in the woods and listen to the birds and other wildlife in the forest.
This year our giving team at Wilkinson volunteered at Camp Prime Time during one of their weekend cleanup days. It was a wonderful experience to finally give back to an organization that brought so much fun and relaxation to our family. The cabins are exactly as I remembered them. Going into the main lodge and smelling the burnt wood smell from the fireplace brought back so many memories of our family connecting with others going through similar situations while having meals or a simple cup of cocoa together. The firepit reminded me of the clown that would come out for entertainment in the evenings while s’mores were being prepared. Additionally, it was refreshing to see the treehouse again. It is the only treehouse in the pacific northwest that is ADA accessible and wasn’t very old when our family first came to Camp Prime Time. Thankfully, it hasn’t degraded in any way. Sponsors and camp caretakers have done an amazing job in keeping it in excellent condition.
An added new experience I was able to see were the arrangements volunteers have for comfort while making the camp a fantastic experience for participants. There is an upstairs portion to the lodge for volunteers to stay. Volunteers have 5 dorm rooms available, men’s and women’s bathroom areas complete with showers, a full-sized refrigerator, and a break room to play cards or relax on a reclining couch. Each dorm has two bunk beds and a rocking chair. On the walls of the hallway are pictures of past participants having fun at camp. Although simple, the accommodations give a quiet place for volunteers to recoup and prepare for their adventurous days ahead.
Our giving team cleaned windows, swept & vacuumed floors, prepared a playground for an additional structure, and even used a tractor for grating the parking area. It’s exciting to see the amazing things in store for this next camp season. Camp Prime Time is a very special place and we were honored to be able to give back to this amazing organization so that more families like ours can have a safe and accessible vacation.