How My Twice Exceptional Teen Became a Happy Camper

How My Twice Exceptional Teen Became a Happy Camper

A mom recently wrote about her son Fen’s experience at camp. He’s been coming to OTC for the past five years. Fen is one of the most original, interesting and hilarious campers who has come to camp. He’s not always the easiest and when he first came to camp he seemed to want to go home on a pretty regular basis, but I’m glad he stayed because he’s made our camp better every summer.

Fen’s mom says our camp is perfect for a 2e kid. While I’m not an expert on twice-exceptional people, the teens who have come to camp whose parents have told me are “twice-exceptional” have done really well. I was struck when Fen’s mom  wrote, “most camps are designed to produce an outcome. He needed freedom.” I think the only outcome we ever shoot for at camp is to help kids be themselves, have fun, maybe even find a little joy and laughter.

 

“OTC was a refuge for our twice exceptional son”

I don’t really know how to explain the refuge that Odyssey Teen Camp is for our twice exceptional son. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a smart kid and makes his way in life, but it’s a rough path with lots of bumps in the road. If you know and love a 2e kid, you know they aren’t typical. They don’t fit easily into the categories of special ed, gifted ed or gen ed. Unless you’re lucky enough to have them in a school made for this population, you know they spend a great majority of their time in school and activities making it work, being a round peg in a square hole.

At OTC, our 2e child fit perfectly by just being who he is, and the gift that is to him and our family is hard to articulate.

“Most camps are designed to produce an outcome”

Let me start by telling you we’d tried a variety of camps for him over the years. He’s attended sleepover, day, sports, comedy and drama camps as well as after school classes.. Results varied, but the theme throughout was typically a forced experience our kid endured. Most camps are designed to produce an outcome; a better athlete, actor or computer skills. These are great for many kids, but ours had a hard time in these more rigid organized environments that focus on a skill. So much of a 2e kid’s life is work, he needed freedom. He also typically struggled in social settings because intricacies of a group dynamic could overwhelm him. He needed a place he could be completely authentic, to proudly be his quirky unconventional self with no judgement. If past experience proved true for us, that seemed unlikely.

“it’s a place full of quirky kids”

The summer before our son went to high school, his college-aged sister mentioned a summer camp her friend had attended and worked at for many years. She thought it would be a good fit for her little brother. “Mom,” she said, “it’s a place full of quirky kids.” She told me it wasn’t therapeutic, not themed or skills based and not intentionally for 2e kids… just a place where differences were celebrated, judgement was non-existent and kids were told to be “exactly who they are.”

If you’re the parent of a twice exceptional kid like me, you might be as skeptical as I was. Be exactly who they are isn’t something you’re used to hearing. Raising a 2e kid means a lot of time spent listening to the ways your child is the squeaky wheel and all the ways your child can adjust their true selves to fit into school, enrichment programs, teams, etc. To think there’s a place where they can just “be” seems suspect. I needed to investigate.

I called my daughter’s friend. She knew our son and wholeheartedly thought he’d love OTC. When I said that I didn’t think he’d like a full day of activities, she mentioned an afternoon class she’d taught called Cloud Watching because she said, “some kids need to lay on the lawn and stare at the sky for an hour.” I mentioned he sometimes had trouble maneuvering social situations, she assured me this was rarely an issue at OTC for any kid.

“I called OTC’s director… I held nothing back”

I called Adam Simon, OTC’s director. I honestly described the ins and outs of our son’s personality. His intensities, overexcitabilities, and anxiety. His disabling fear of insects and propensity for only eating peanut butter related food. I said he could be argumentative, anxious, stubborn and inflexible. I also shared his humor, kindness, wit and ability to speak with boundless passion about subjects he cherished. I held nothing back. As the phone call came to an end I waited to hear what I had been conditioned to hear, pause and hesitation. I waited to hear the ways this “might” work or that this probably would be a challenge, or a flat out no. But, if memory serves me Adam barely skipped a beat and said he couldn’t wait to meet our son. We signed him up.

I don’t know how Adam and his amazing staff manage to unite and empower a diverse group of teens who by the end of camp seem to radiate connection and happiness. OTC is, in my opinion, a rare opportunity for teens in our culture. A place where nothing more is required than to be real, be good and just be. Don’t get me wrong, there seems to be plenty of opportunity to learn some cool skills and there are plenty of activities, it’s just that the main focus is on being a kid, not planning for college or adulthood. OTC campers fully embrace the moment that is being a teenager, the opportunity to be totally goofy, filled with energetic emotion, and completely real.

“He got to be exactly who he is, and that, for a 2e kid is a unique & beautiful thing.”

At OTC our guy swims in all of his clothes, takes classes on things like Yoga, Food & Music and Protesting. He does stand up comedy and had a plastic skeleton for a cabin-mate. He got totally homesick, wanted to leave and was encouraged and reassured to stay by his amazing pod leaders. He was appreciated and encouraged by camp staff to grow as a person, conquer his fears and try new things. He acted weird, dressed like a banana, sang songs, made friends, and most importantly felt completely included in a community where everyone is celebrated. He got to be exactly who he is, and that, for a 2e kid is a unique & beautiful thing.

Find out about Odyssey Teen Camp

A great place for teens to be exactly who they are in a community that celebrates diversity. 

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What parents have to say about Odyssey Teen Camp

What parents have to say about Odyssey Teen Camp

A few years ago, we decided to ask parents what they saw Odyssey Teen Camp doing for their teenagers. This is a wonderful video to watch and truly get the scope of transformation that parents see from the outside. We’re so honored to be a place where teenagers can learn self-reliance, healthy communication, and positive relationships with themselves and others. The video is transcribed below. Thanks for watching!

“This was Kayla’s second year here—she loves it here. Last year when we brought her, she was an entirely different kid from when we dropped her off and when we brought her home. When she left, she wouldn’t talk to me; she was in a really bad place. When we picked her up two weeks later she was transformed and she brought that transformation home, and she loves being here. It’s a great, accepting, wonderful place to be.”

“It’s been the most amazing experience for her. She’s made lifelong friends, and she’s found confidence and self-esteem and gotten to explore things that she never would have otherwise.”

“Mila, our daughter, this is her third year coming to Odyssey [Teen] Camp. She absolutely loves it. It’s a place where she learned self-love, love of others, expression and understanding of all the diversity of humanity. She absolutely looks forward to being here and hanging out with the beautiful friends she’s met here, because it’s just a place where we get to BE. It’s also in a beautiful environment. Every kid should come to Odyssey, it’s fulfilling for the soul, spirit, and being.”

“At this camp, it’s very much in the moment, when you wake up in the morning you’ve got 50 different things you can pick from that day and do it with the friends that you’re making as you’ve been here. It’s reallu about being in the moment and all the things they offer are great.”

“I’m about to pick them up, and last year when I picked them up, the first thing they said to me was: ‘Mama, this was a life-changing experience.'”

“This is the second summer that my children have attended Odyssey Teen Camp. They come form Copenhagen , Denmark, and they absolutely love it.”

“[This is a] world where kids don’t have that opportunity to connect with other kids and open up, to feel free, and to feel like they have a safe harbor to be themselves. This is a really unique, once-in-a-lifetime experience. I would highly recommend it for anyone—for any kid who wants to be free.”

Rays of Sunshine at Odyssey Teen Summer Camp

Rays of Sunshine at Odyssey Teen Summer Camp

Alumni Camper Matt with his parents at Hollywood Bowl

Teenage boy struggling with depression finds hope and connection at summer camp

Being a young person is perhaps harder now than it ever was before. The pressures that society can place on our teens is immense – teachers demand better grades, coaches demand more time and better performances on the athletic field, and the temptations put upon our teens by their peers are greater than ever.

That’s why we believe so strongly in what we’re doing here at Odyssey Teen Camp. Below is a testimonial we just received from a family who was struggling with a lot of what we described above, and we’re so grateful that we were able to work with them and have Matthew at our summer teen camp.

Matthew’s teen camp story

“It was the springtime of 2007; we were caught in a very serious challenge with our son, Matthew, who had started to show signs of depression that compelled us to try finding solutions to support him. In our journey to find resources for this sensitive, creative and deeply soulful kid. Our research led us to Odyssey Teen Camp.

Seeing that there was an open house weekend, we piled into our car and headed to the oasis known as Odyssey Teen Camp. Arriving there we gathered with several families as Adam Simon, the camp director, guided us around the wonderful setting. Standing by the pond adjacent to the main camp, we recall Adam speaking to a question as to why he founded this camp. As he spoke, sharing with us a slice of his own life as a teenager, lost in the system and unsupported as a sensitive teen, he choked up, tears forming in his eyes. The passion shown immediately infused the adults and teens, showing clearly that Adam was not your typical man, but one with deep sensitivity and love for these lost kids trying to find their way in a world which did little to acknowledge how very special they were.

Matt spent the full month session at Odyssey Teen Camp that first summer of 2007. The kid who we left at the camp that July summer afternoon was a changed person when we came back to pick him up in August. He was filled with a sense of unity and purpose, having a lightness and buoyancy that we had not witnessed to date. This was truly a transformative experience, not only for Matt, but for all the other kids who were fortunate enough to have Adam Simon and his team open the door to a luminous world otherwise not experienced by these kids.

2008 and 2009 brought summers of his attending Odyssey Teen Camp, but more importantly forging an indelible relationship with Adam Simon. In June 2009, Matt graduated from Darrow School and who sat in the audience witnessing this success but Adam, who had made the trip, with his dog, to this small boutique boarding school to be there for Matt. Needless to say, Odyssey Teen Camp has been the catalyst for Matt to take hold of himself in a bold and confident way, thus being instrumental in his taking charge of his life.

Since that time, Matt has continued to actively participate in Adam’s pearl, becoming a camp counselor and assisting Adam in a variety of projects and creative endeavors. Truly, Odyssey Teen Camp and Adam Simon were life-altering phenomenons that have priceless value. Thank you Adam for all that you’ve done and continue to do to change the lives of our youth. You are a gift!

Janeen and Michael”

Summer Camp Online 2020 now in session!

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, we had to cancel camp for 2020 but we now have an online program where teens can jump in any time. It may be the perfect way for shy or anxious teens to test the waters and meet the community. Watch the video to find out more.

Find out about Odyssey Teen Camp

A great place for teens to be exactly who they are in a community that celebrates diversity. 

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