In many ways, Kim and Michael Gardner are like most AOK Camp families. Michael teaches high school and Kim has a career in sales. They have three daughters, ages 8, 4 and 16 months. Their 4-year-old, Aya, was diagnosed with ASD last year. This is their first summer at AOK Camp and they have to do some commuting each day to get Aya back and forth.
Actually, make that a LOT of commuting: Michael teaches high school in Taiwan, and Kim’s career is based in the Philippines. Michael keeps their eldest daughter with him, and they head home to Kim and the two youngest every six weeks or so. And the whole family came to Canada, to visit friends and try out AOK Camp, this year.
They didn’t actually plan to come to our camp. Michael says they were trying to register for a camp in the St. Catharines area and they’d completed the application before realizing the location wasn’t what they thought. But both Michael and Kim say they’re very happy with their mistake!
Michael and Kim are looking for the best therapy and education options for Aya, and that includes Canada. Michael took Aya to the U.S. when she was diagnosed last year, to evaluate her strengths and identify areas on which to focus. Kim said they were heartened by the openness about “differences” here – she is very open about Aya’s ASD, in the community and on social media, and says some of her friends and acquaintances have contacted her privately about their own childrens’ challenges. She’s hoping to use Facebook and other social media platforms to join with other ASD families in the Philippines and surrounding area.
The Gardners are already thinking about coming back next year. They loved feeling accepted and safe with our camp experience, and secure in the knowledge that their daughter would be with a dedicated counselor at all times. As for Aya, her parents say that although she doesn’t have enough language yet to say exactly what she liked about camp, she wouldn’t come if she didn’t like it! Aya won the hearts of her counselor Monika, room director Fiona and everyone she met at camp.
Many camp families remember their first experience at AOK Camp. Being surrounded by our beautiful community, seeing kids and adults being cared for by staff that really accepted them for exactly who they are. That’s part of what makes AOK Camp AOA so wonderful!
Hope we see you next year, Gardner family!
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