Too often, young people are punished for being different. As a neurodivergent person, my teenage years were punctuated by pressures to conform. Teachers and authority figures weren’t interested in how my mysterious brain worked or how fully I felt my feelings. They were interested in how well I would do on standardized tests and how in the world I could somehow, someday be a good employee.
Finding Odyssey Teen Camp, and other spaces that celebrated me for who I was instead of trying to change me, was a significant step towards figuring out how to love myself.
In case you don’t know, being neurodivergent means your brain works in a way that differs from what’s considered “typical” or “normal.” A lot of people associate it with someone on the autism spectrum, but it’s an umbrella term that can mean a whole bunch of other things too, from dyslexia to social anxiety. From my experience at camp, I’ve also learned that it can mean out-of-the-box thinker, ring-leader, and creative genius.
“Neurodiversity is …a concept where neurological differences are to be recognized and respected as any other human variation. These differences can include those labeled with Dyspraxia, Dyslexia, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Dyscalculia, Autistic Spectrum, Tourette Syndrome, and others.”
– National Symposium on Neurodiversity (2011
We’ve always had neurodivergent teens at Odyssey. Though we aren’t structured specifically for that group, they often thrive at camp because they aren’t being pressured to think and act like everyone else. Odyssey Teen Camp is a place that celebrates and embraces all kinds of differences. We love when people think outside of the box or have a unique lens they view the world through.
We encourage teens to ask what “normal” even is, and who are we letting define that for us? Why not define it for ourselves?
I now know that the things that make me different, though sometimes they’ve made my life harder, are also a big piece of what makes me the cool person I am. Loving myself and my neurodivergent brain helped me find coping mechanisms and figure out how to navigate a world built by neurotypical people. And now, through my work at Odyssey, I get to help neurodivergent teens recognize this power and possibility within themselves, too.
Georgios came to camp when he was 15 for our first summer back in 2003, and now he’s in his 30’s. He has only missed two years of camp in all those years. Georgios knows our camp culture as well as anyone because he created so much of it. At camp, he is what we call a pod leader, (other camps might call it a division head), for the 15 and 16-year-old boys. He brings so much heart, patience, humor, honesty, fun, and originality to everything he does at Odyssey Teen Camp.