St. Alban's -
Aaron Northcott sits at the kitchen table in his home in St. Alban's and plays a tune on his keyboard from the video game Mario Brothers.
From there, he enjoys a glass of milk and a chocolate bar while telling stories of his trip to Max Simms Memorial Camp.
Sounds like a typical 10-year-old boy's summer, right? Not exactly. Aaron has Asperger Syndrome, which is a form of autism.
Hosted by the Autism Society of Newfoundland and Labrador, the camp, in its fourth year, included activities like nature walks, a carnival, pony rides and a petting zoo, a bouncy castle, air-brush tattooing, an obstacle course and a campfire with a fireworks display for the little ones.
"The first thing they did was play Nintendo Wii, which is good because it has little comforts of home," said Diana Northcott, Aaron's mother. "All kids with Aspergers and autism love video games. He was quite comfortable."
From the comfort of his living room, Aaron reminds his mother, "Don't forget, Mom, they had 'Rock Band' (a video game for Wii) there, too."
Aaron can recite story after story from his trip to the Max Simms camp in late June. From riding horses, playing Wii and singing campfire songs to face painting, jumping in the bounce castle and making new friends, Aaron pretty much did it all.
However, Diana said, her son was reluctant to go at first. He would rather stay indoors and normally doesn't stray too far from home.
Now that he's been to camp, Aaron is already talking - as is Diana - about going again next year. They hope the petting zoo will be there again, and that Aaron's new animal friend will also make a return visit.
"There was a llama that took right to me ... it really liked me," he said. "I even hugged it. Even the owner couldn't stop the llama from following me."
Mother and son left for camp on a Friday night and returned home on Sunday. Diana said staying overnight was optional, as some families just went for Saturday's daylong activities. Getting Aaron to go is a "step in the right direction," according to Diana, who added the camp did her son a world of good.
"Aaron has anxiety issues, especially around crowds, so this was good to get him used to being around crowds and kids like himself," she said. "The other thing is that he's not singled out - he's like every other kid there. He's not being judged, he can be himself and if he wants to run around, or scream, then he can do it. It was wonderful to watch all of the kids do their own thing and watch Aaron make a few new friends."
Although the camp is loaded with activities for the kids, the parents also enjoy the time they get to socialize with each other. Diana said she's created a little network of friends and even learned new facts about autism.
"It's important to talk to other parents," she said. "It's great to meet other parents with autistic children. We exchanged numbers and e-mails ... sometimes we don't have all of the answers. It's a learning process for me, too. It's like a little support group."
There were only a few Coast of Bays families that attended the camp and Diana believes all families with autistic children should go next year.
"It's a wonderful experience for the kids, as well as the parents," she said. "As soon as I saw the interview request, I replied. I think it's important for all families to know about this camp and I strongly encourage them to go next year."
For more information on the camp, call the ASNL in Grand Falls-Windsor at 709-489-4190, by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit the website at www.aasnl.ca.