ROME – There is a camp in western Maine just for young people who communicate using technology.
“This is a specialized camp, it’s called Camp Communicate, and it’s for families and children who use augmentative communication, or high tech communication devises,” said Linda Bonnar, the Pathways at Pine Tree Society communications director.
The goal of the five-day camp is to provide non-verbal 8- to 20-year-olds an opportunity to go to summer camp with other people — just like them — who use technology to communicate.
“We want the children to be able to advocate for themselves,” Bonnar said. “We want them to be independent and get their wants and needs met. We want to show them their words have meaning and that they are being heard and that they are part of our community.”
The campers can even communicate out on the water.
“Knowing that the communication devises don’t like water, we also provide low tech communications boards that float,” Bonnar said.
Beyond happy is how one mother said she felt when her eight-year-old daughter first got a tablet and was able to communicate for the first time.
“Amazing. She was able to tell us what she wanted,” said Carolyn Sweet of Bowdoinham.
Now that her daughter, Jaclyn, is a 14-year-old teenager, the devise has added so much more to her life.
“It’s also, for her, a big socializing” tool, Sweet said. “Not so much her wants and needs but being able to tell a joke. You know, get that reaction from friends and family. Just being silly on it. It’s just been amazing for her to have that connection to the outside world now.”
While the youngsters enjoy outdoor games, music and drama, swimming and going out on the boats, their parents can go to workshops about how to better support them. The parents also bounce ideas off each other.
“I’ll have a parent be like, ‘I have the greatest idea for you’ because you mentioned this. It worked with my son,” Sweet said. “So that networking is really important.”