July 18, 2017

Brain injury camp inspires kids to overcome challenges

It’s a paradise like no other for Saskatchewan kids who have sustained a moderate to severe acquired brain injury (ABI).

Saskatchewan’s one-of-a-kind Acquired Brain Injury Youth Camp is a place where children aged 8-16 from across Saskatchewan not only tackle challenges associated with their ABI, but often overlook the fact they even have one in the first place.  In 2016, the camp was located at Camp Quest at Christopher Lake in Saskatchewan and funded in part by Jim Pattison Children’s Hospital Foundation 2016 grants program.  The four-day camp takes learning outside of a classroom setting to a whole new level and is planned by staff from Radius Community Centre and the three provincial ABI Outreach Teams, all part of the ABI Partnership Program between SGI and Saskatchewan Ministry of Health.

“When the youth get to camp, they see others who are just like them,” explains Francis Cashin, recreation therapist and ABI coordinator at Saskatchewan Central ABI Outreach Team. “We’ve had a camper who previously had a stroke and met another camper [who previously did as well], which highly motivated her to fit in and feel accepted. They grow as an individual and are able to safely take more risks.”

Taking risks is often what prompts youth to discover their own unique capabilities and develop self-awareness. New friends and improved social and leadership skills is only the beginning of what youth with ABI’s take away from the camp. Swimming, tubing, laser tag, archery and pontoon rides are among the many activities they participate in and show the most enthusiasm towards. As one family describes, it’s activities like these that bring out the best in their child and help them to overcome obstacles related to physical ability.

“Christian felt a huge sense of belonging.” says Christian’s dad Norm. “He’s had a bit of developmental delays with his condition but the camp helps him feel confident in how far he’s come, both socially and physically.”

Christian was born with two holes in his heart and was diagnosed with an anoxic brain injury caused by a lack of oxygen to the brain. At the ABI camp, he found himself in an environment where he felt independent and free to explore. Being the easygoing kid that he is, it was archery that made him feel the most fulfilled as it was a one-on-one type of sport that offered the perfect amount of challenge.

Although the primary goal of the camp is to help kids with ABI’s express themselves in a new environment, what the campers didn’t expect was the level of mentorship they experienced with the other campers and camp leaders. Each leader, along with Recreation Therapists, are all trained to provide education on ABI and help provide a familiar environment of trust that many of the families experience with a health care professional.

“Christian was able to bond with the Recreation Therapists and the staff has driven him,” says Christian’s mom Sandi. “He’s been going to camp for three years now, and he always wishes it could go longer and wants to be signed up for next year!”

“The camp leaders, Recreation Therapists, plus additional staff all get trained through the outreach program,” says Cashin. “We are able to connect youth to the camp through building positive therapeutic relationships.”

Additionally outlined by Cashin, the camp provides a way for the campers to takeaway new personal leadership skills that they can carry forward in their future pursuits. In the days and weeks following camp, a more positive therapeutic relationship with the camper’s health care team is common, encouraging youth’s willingness to take on any necessary treatments or supports. Campers also feel a sense of accomplishment knowing they can thrive in an environment away from their families, and in turn the families are able to trust that their child is benefiting from a brand new experience filled with positive reinforcement tailored to their individual needs.

“It’s programs like these that allow our children and youth in Saskatchewan to gather into one common setting where acceptance and encouragement is free-flowing,” says Brynn Boback-Lane, president and CEO of Jim Pattison Children’s Hospital Foundation. “Our support for the ABI camp is intended to help those with ABI’s excel through the most inspiring camp experience of their lives.”

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