The KOC Blog

  • Signs of Spring - Staff Return to the KOC

    by Jane Isbister | May 10, 2015

    This is the first week without snow or sub-zero nights in Minden. It’s WONDERFUL! Yesterday, as I was driving my son to school he remarked at all the visible signs of spring that were apparent to him as if for the first time in his 4 year life; crocuses, finches, robins, tree buds, spring peepers, longer days… Unfortunately (for me) he’s also very keen on seeing the bears wake up from their long hibernation. He wants to see this so badly and so my fingers are crossed (for both of us).

    In a seasonal program, like ours at the Kinark Outdoor Center, all the above signs of spring are apparent, but so much more too! There’s the sound of power tools as we repair a few items damaged from the weight of the snow; the smell of paint as we freshen up some signs and sand boxes that line our roads; a few curse words overheard in the distance as we discover a collapsed culvert on the driveway; and there is a cheer as the admin staff realize that we have reached our capacity, set higher than last year, and that summer camp registration is full.

    And there are people!  New staff and returning staff start to gather and push energy, warmth, and purpose back into the facility that has been quiet and so cold for so many months. In the last three days we have seen our first hint of true spring, and the hope of summer, and the creation of a wonderful, safe, and competent team.

    Our staff come from a variety of recreation, education, CYW, and other professional backgrounds. They bring experience working in camp settings and working with children with a variety of special needs. This group in particular brings an inherent sense of compassion – and fun too!

    As a parent I immediately feel confident in their ability to perform and care for the work that will be asked of them over the next several months. I know that parents who are in dire need of respite will trust them; I know that a youth who has experienced too many challenges given their age might laugh at their dance moves; and my fingers are crossed that one of them will sing “Going on a Bear Hunt” with the right audience, too!

    Welcome Back Spring! The Outdoor Center is Open!

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  • The Cost of Autism Spectrum Disorders and the Value of Caregivers

    by Jane Isbister | Oct 30, 2014

    The Cost of Autism Spectrum Disorders and the Value of Family Caregivers

    By Jim McHardy

    Every weekend at the Kinark Outdoor Centre we have the privilege and pleasure of hosting a group of families who have a child on the autism spectrum, and every weekend we marvel at the skills, patience and energy that parents, aunts, grandparents and siblings bring to the role of caregiver for an ASD child. The Kinark Outdoor Centre is gifted with a highly skilled and experienced staff group, but we all wonder how one plays the role of caregiver 24/7 for a lifetime for an individual with a neurological condition. We constantly learn from those special parents that bring their children to the Centre and we are motivated by what they do. Of course we get to go home after the weekend and recuperate. We are also paid for providing respite, but parents do not get paid for doing the same thing. It is estimated that the lifetime cost of providing lifetime care for an individual diagnosed with autism is $5.5 million higher then someone without.1 Of course most families do not have the income to buy this care, so they end up providing the care themselves at the expense of lost income, mental health and family relationships. If one in 88 children are now being diagnosed with autism, where parents unable or unwilling to provide this care, the burden on the community and state is unfathomable.

    We know and believe that all parents, but especially parents/caregivers who have a child diagnosed with autism are a valuable asset that need to be encouraged, nurtured, and supported through education, resources and community programs so they can play the caregiver role. I also feel that parent support and respite should be equally as important as research and behavioral interventions.

    1 Dudley, C.; Emery, J.C.H.; The Value of Caregiver Time; University of Calgary –The School of Public Policy Research Papers; Vol 7, Issue 1, Jan 2014

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  • It's About Community

    by Jane Isbister | Jun 11, 2014

    I imagine it would be easy for any teacher to wonder 'what's the point?' when considering the effort of taking your classroom away for 3-5 days to a camp or outdoor center. Excellent urban-based programs exist; portable climbing walls can be brought onto school property; the promotion of outdoor free play is infiltrating many sectors of our societies with funded opportunities.. Factors like these, coupled with the cost of travel to an outdoor center, can make it a hard sell. 

    Don't get me wrong: there's an argument for it being done better in an immersed environment, but local possibilities do exist. Yet I was relieved today, as I watched a wonderful school from the Upper Grand District School Board drive away. I remembered (again) the space that outdoor centers and camps own over their urban competitors: the ability to experience and grow as a community.  

    Bring the parents, bring the teachers, and bring the kids! A bit of structure, a few new learning opportunities, and a whole of lot of time together doing daily routines that normally are done as a family, will enrich your school community, the individuals and the groups that support it, and participate in it, in surprising and unparalleled ways.
    (I think the parents had more fun than the kids!)

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  • Climate Change or A Climate for Change

    by Jane Isbister | Jun 11, 2014

    As a life long outdoor guy and children’s camp director for over 40 years I have had taken a strong interest in environmental education and environmental issues. Red flags have been raised about how we humans impact mother nature since long before I was born, and the concern has rightly  now grown to an overpowering voice telling us to do something right now. Yet, at least in Canada, the response at the political level, has been to say the least, underwhelming. Some say that the task is to large and the message is so alarming that we have grown numb and even indifferent. As a Camp Director I have few answers, but as a Camp Director with a Children’s Mental Health Agency I have decades of answers.

    Like environmental research and studies the Mental Health field has evolved dramatically over the past 40 years. Brain based research, mental and physical health linkages, community based interventions, social support networks and the movement towards evidence informed practices have moved the field into a new age. Consistent throughout this evolution has been a continuous acknowledgement and increased understanding of risk and prevention factors or in other words, the environment of the client. The child must be viewed in the context of the family, the community, the school, the physical home setting and all the resources that come into play. In order for us to support behavioral, pharmaceutical and social interventions to be effective we have to look at the total environment and to ‘create a climate for change’. Diet, daily schedule, the timing of supports, parent training, information sharing, organizing the living space, structuring social interactions and defining expectations are things that are within our grasp and tasks that we can learn to do. While not every child responds the same way to a medication or a behavioral intervention, by managing the environment with tasks we can control we can dramatically achieve the likelihood of success.

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  • Social Support Networks in Times of Need

    by Jane Isbister | Jun 11, 2014

    This week was both a learning experience and an emotionally challenging time for me. The sudden passing of the long time family dog was a significant emotional blow. Pepper was a constant companion and an integral part of all aspects of my life, so her departure was a huge loss. At the same time the recognition and support received from family and friends was enormously uplifting and greatly appreciated. In reflection I realized how fortunate I am to have a social support network to help me with life’s challenges and how important social support networks are to all of us.

    Another event that I experience this week was the opportunity to sit in on and participate in a social support group for young adults with Autism. This was one of many that I have attended over the past six weeks in order to not only spread the word about the Kinark ASD Respite programs, but also to gain a better understanding of those who seek our services. I was particularly struck by how appreciative all the parents were around this activity. I was also once again enlightened about the complexity and challenges of providing care for an ASD child. The dialogue between parents as they dropped off their children was a supportive sharing of information about resources and learnings around their children’s needs. What was started as young adults recreational respite  had also developed into an extremely helpful social support network for parents, meeting an obvious need.

    While the needs of ASD child are unique, the value of a social support network for parents is constant. Behavioral interventions, direct care and family funding remain priorities for the continually expanding ASD population, but we should not forget the importance of fostering social support networks.

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  • Call It Respite... and watch it become life skills

    by Jane Isbister | Jun 11, 2014

    Making friends, paddling a kayak, playing basketball, exploring nature with your cabin group, cleaning the dinner table, fishing, tetherball with a partner, and singing around the campfire... These are some of the many things campers do at the Kinark Outdoor Centre. It looks, sounds and feels like many other summer camps. Only, there is a difference. This summer for the ninth year in a row, all the campers attending will be diagnosed on the Autism Spectrum, and most will attend as a part of a broader initiative to provide respite for ASD families. Of course we do not tell the campers or the parents that this is respite, because it is way too much fun and there is far too much learning going on for it to be just respite.

    For many of these campers it is there first time staying overnight without their parents. Other firsts include: making a friend, looking after their belongings, participating in an activity with a partner, doing chores as a group, or trying things like canoeing, climbing and fishing.

    For a number of campers who come to the Kinark Outdoor Centre, the success they have at camp transfers back to home and community. There is a continued willingness and confidence around trying new things. Campers also continue to use and practice the new skills they have acquired.

                    “He came home and wanted to show me how you make a pizza."
                     “She put away all her clothes without me asking”

    With the proper pre-camp preparation, a well trained staff team, and additional resources the summer camp experience holds the same potential for those on the ASD spectrum as it does for their peers and siblings.

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