It is undeniable that we live in a socially complex world. We are largely guided by unspoken rules and norms that dictate what we should think or say, or how we should act in certain situations. Said complexity often results in frustration or isolation for individuals on the autism spectrum. For Jacob, who was diagnosed with autism at only 24 months of age, the journey of navigating these complicated social waters has not only been long, but also largely devoid of understanding, support and inclusion from his community and society at large.
Given that language is not something he naturally acquired, Jacob has had to go through years of therapy to achieve speaking 1-2 word phrases – an achievement that demonstrates Jacob’s and his family’s resilience and perseverance, and one we celebrate at Zajac Ranch. His lack of language skills, however, coupled with some sensory challenges, and behavioural issues resulting from this sense of misunderstanding and isolation, have amounted to a lack of close friendships in his home community despite his longing to be seen and accepted exactly the way he is.
Yet, at Zajac Ranch, the story is a different one. See, at Zajac Ranch for Children, Jacob is no longer the ‘different one.’ He is accepted, he is encouraged, and he is seen beyond his perceived limitations. While Jacob cannot articulate what his favourite part of camp is, his mom notes how the shift towards greater independence, resilience and ability to manage himself in new and different settings and situations, is noticeable. Thus, attending camp at Zajac Ranch is an irreplaceable experience for Jacob because it allows him to be more independent. Since mom and dad are not around, Jacob is positively challenged to trust his abilities to communicate and get by. On the flip side, it allows his parents to see him in a new light of being more capable than they often think. In fact, seeing the changes in Jacob after camp allows them to ease their fears, and reminds them of how far Jacob has come.
Ammabelle, Jacob’s mum, reminds us that campers who attend Zajac Ranch are often more capable than we – or even they – might expect. Hence, being away at camp for five days profoundly helps campers realize there are many things they can actually do on their own. And, as Ammabelle states, “Zajac Ranch is the perfect environment for kids to stretch out their wings, because it is filled with skilled, capable staff members who love our kids and who love what they do. The facility itself is safe and well managed. They have a very good system in place to make sure they are prepared to handle any issues that come up.”