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A Story from Quest Camp: Phoebe

Quest Camp is a JFCS program that helps children from 6-18 who struggle with behavior, emotions, and social relationships as a result of ADHD, anxiety, or an autism spectrum disorder diagnosis. Campers enjoy typical summer camp activities, with added behavioral and group psychotherapy. For many kids, the experience is life-changing. This is Phoebe’s story:

Five years ago, Phoebe was a shy, non-communicative teenager who spent her early days at camp feeling isolated among a group of kids who seemed uninterested in her. Gradually, though, the counselors helped her recognize how her own solitary behavior might make her seem unfriendly to others just as their behavior might make them seem unfriendly to her. “They helped me see that maybe the other kids’ behavior was about their limitations, and not a reaction to me,” she says. It was her first experience at seeing things from someone else’s point of view.

The Quest system empowers these kids by offering choices and encouraging accountability. By choosing which activity she preferred, Phoebe learned she could make decisions. And she could choose to change other behaviors as well. “If nobody came over to talk to me, I could go over to them,” she said. Phoebe began to see her life as a series of options – she wasn’t stuck.

April Artz, Director of Quest Camp, remembers Phoebe well. “It’s wonderful to be able to introduce kids like Phoebe to a place where a culture of acceptance already exists, because with that foundation there is a strong likelihood they will respond positively, forge new friendships, and learn about themselves.”

Today, Phoebe is a bubbly, articulate college freshman who tells people about her autism “right off the bat.” She chooses friends who accept her as she is, and she manages her challenges. She says, “I know I’m terrible at picking up subtlety, so I tell people they need to be honest if there’s something wrong.” She’s aware that she gets “socially exhausted” and therefore gives herself alone time to “decompress.” Her tendency to reject new things usually comes from trying to process too many things at once, so now she slows down.

Phoebe is studying psychology at college and would like to become a therapist for people with autism and other disabilities. In fact, she hopes to intern at Quest Camp this summer.

There are still spaces available at Quest Camp this summer for weeks 1-3 of the program. For more information, email April Artz at aartz@jfcspgh.org.

Photo: Phoebe