Day Camp Prep

Day Camp Prep

A Discussion Group

Each summer, Dr. Amanda Azarbehi, Assistant Professor of Psychology, and a group of Tyndale students run a day camp for children with autism and their peers, known as TRACE camp. TRACE stands for Tyndale Research in Autism and Community Education.

Marva Smith (BA Psychology, 2013), Keera Ravindra (BA Psychology, 2014), Darnette Anderson (BA Psychology, 2013) and Anchugan Sivagnanam (BA Psychology and Human Services, 2014) sat together one afternoon to discuss the TRACE camp the week before it started.

Tell me about your involvement with TRACE.

Darnette: This is my third TRACE...I find children with autism fascinating. When you interact with them, you have to treat them as they are, and just roll with the punches.
Anchugan: This is my first TRACE. The last couple of years I’ve been doing camps, but they were…never trained to handle special needs kids…This year I had the opportunity to do TRACE and was really intrigued in working with autistic children. I want to eventually become a social worker [and] have some experience in dealing with autistic children…I want to give them the best experience I can.

Keera: This will be my first time as well with TRACE. I have worked in so many daycares—I love children with all of my heart.

Marva: Last year when I had the opportunity to work with the TRACE camp, it was out of personal interest. My second granddaughter is on the autism spectrum. I wanted to learn a little bit more about…this vulnerable population. It has really been an eye-opener. Working with the children really blew my mind. They are just fascinating…there’s this personal sense of satisfaction, to know that you’re…helping guide them with their social skills.

TRACE is about bringing children with autism and typical peers (children without autism) together. How do you see bridging the gap and building relationships?

Marva: Last year, Dr. A. [Azarbehi] had separate sessions with each “typical peer” child, helping them to deal with a child that was autistic. So as leaders, we encourage that interaction with the children. The typical child is on a learning path, just like the new staff.

Darnette: They are rewarded. They get a sticker and, at the end of the day, with all the stickers they get, they get a prize. The interaction is encouraged.

Part of this camp is based on relationships. How do you set yourselves up to minister to the children and to integrate yourselves with your co-workers?
Anchugan: When I’ve worked in a team, we’ve worked as a unit…there’s just this energy…So definitely being open, and building a team relationship sets the course for a successful camp.

Keera: This is an opportunity for me to learn…I’m going to make sure I build very good relationships. We have different ideas…and different ways of dealing with children, but I’m a new person, it’s my responsibility to build a relationship with people who are already there.

Marva: I’ve already started to pray for the unity of the team, and that our goals and objectives would be to speak life, to love…I believe if we can love Christ…then that will spill over into how we interact with each other and the children. As a result, when you have looked after a child for that day…you’re going to be able to effectively communicate and impart hope to that parent...and pray over every child…and thank God at the end of the day.

Darnette: Ditto.

Anchugan: Prayer works.

Is there one thing you’re looking forward to?

Marva: Zoo To You I love. I just don’t like the snakes…Looking forward to taking them to the Science Centre and fun outings like that. You leave at the end of the day…feeling like a kid all over again.

Anchugan: I’m looking forward to working with autistic children…I’m excited and nervous. That’s going to be a big challenge for me, shifting my mind in gear because they do have special needs. And as a leader, how do I adapt to that? So that’s what I’m looking forward to, the adaptation part.

Darnette: We do have a training session. That fixes most of it, and if you don’t know something just ask for help…as a group, we help each other.

Anchugan: I’m used to working individually with children, but that’s a great concept of working together. I’ve seen people get drained, because they don’t have the energy level.

Marva: At that point, where you feel you need help, just say Marva, I need five minutes…look after my child. Then you come back and you’re fine.

Darnette: We have an excellent leader. Dr. Azerbehi sets you up for success. As much as she cares about the campers, she wants to make sure that her staff are fully replenished.

Anchugan: I know I’m definitely going to learn a lot, and gain a positive experience out of it…this is just the beginning for me, in terms of doing special needs.

Darnette: I’m really excited…to jump right in…because dealing with a child who does not speak at all (that was my first child) and having to use picture cards to see what they actually wanted to do was like having blinders on...When you’re not talking, you’re on a different level because you have to be able to sense what this child wants.

Keera: I’m really excited, but already…I want to do this again. I’m really hoping to learn a lot, and to do this as a ministry, and not as a job.

Marva: Just to see the children who were at camp last year. There was this one kid—he talked about the stars and astronomy and would tell me things that would blow my mind. Just so engaging!…For me, a big part of it is wanting to be a kid again, jumping on the trampoline…

Anchugan: Camp is that time when you become a kid. The kids like that they can relate to you.

The effects of TRACE camp are evident to parents whose children participate in the camp. “This is a place I can trust. They have a good program and caring staff. It is a summer camp and learning opportunity. For typical kids it is an opportunity to learn about special needs,” said Maureen whose nine-year-old son and six-year-old son with autism participated. Ryan, the father of eight-year-old camper Caden commented, 'The variety of experience, peer interaction and one-on-one work with student leaders are the key benefits Caden receives from TRACE. We have found that exposing Caden to new experiences in a controlled manner helps develop the skills he needs to handle unexpected experiences."

Book Recommendations on
From the Tyndale University College Psychology Department

Counselling Children
Donna A. Henderson and Charles L. Thompson

Building Social Relationships: A Systematic Approach to Teaching Social Interaction Skills to Children and Adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorders and Other Social Difficulties
Scott Bellini