Lennox Head autism camp is an Australian first
SHELLIE Mills has fond memories of her childhood summer beach holidays, and is overjoyed her son, who has autism, has the opportunity to create his own memories.
Ms Mills, from Murwillumbarh, and seven-year-old Tom along with Tom's dad, Karl Palenschus, currently are attending Australia's first Autism Camp Australia at the Lennox Head Sport and Recreation Centre.
"This is really the first time we've done this (had a family holiday)," Ms Mills said.
"It's been awesome."
Tom was diagnosed with autism when he was aged nearly three, and Ms Mills said a holiday was just "too much of a challenge."
"If we were in a motel or caravan park, if (Tom's) having a meltdown, we're just trying to keep him quiet," she said.
Autism Camp Australia provides experienced support staff for the kids and families.
Ms Mills said it was great to be able to take Tom to a place where "the other kids don't think he's weird".
Ms Mills said she enjoyed watching Tom, who has difficulties socialising, interacting with the other children in activities like rock climbing, swimming and basketball.
But it was watching Tom ride a horse that has given her the biggest thrill.
"I just didn't think he would do it ‒ to wear a helmet, to be close to the horse," she said.
The camp is the brainchild of Rachel Rowe, of Goonengerry, who has a nine-year-old child on the autism spectrum.
She is the CEO of Autism Camp Australia and said the six-day Lennox Head camp was sold-out, attracting 40 people from around the Northern Rivers and southeast Queensland.
The camps target families with children aged 7-14 who have autism.
She said the camp would be rolled out to six other locations in Australia over three years ‒ camps in April are already booked out ‒ and cater to as many as 700 people.
"But that's a drop in the ocean considering one-in-60 people in Australia are diagnosed with autism," she said.
The camps also have an education component so parents can go home with added skills to support their day-to-day lives.