NNSW Big Camp pioneers tent for neurodivergent children

With the main theme based on creation, the tent featured a number of sensory activities. [Credit: Henrique Felix]

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Neurodivergent children had a special place to go to at this year’s North New South Wales Conference (NNSW) Big Camp, held from April 19 to 27 at Yarra Holiday Park in Stuarts Point. For the first time in an Australian Big Camp, the NNSW Children’s Ministry introduced a dedicated program tent for children with Autism, ADHD, Tourette’s, dyslexia and other neurodivergent conditions.

The Hyperactive Faith tent was designed to teach children aged 6-16 about Jesus, while meeting their needs. It provided a calming corner with a sensory swing, various breathing strategies and instrumental calming music to support emotional regulation, reduce anxiety, and improve focus and engagement in activities.

With the main theme based on creation, the tent featured a number of sensory activities with rice, play dough, puzzles, Lego, drawing and colouring, fidget toys, etc. 

NNSW family and children’s ministries director Colleen Savage explained the importance of initiatives catering to this group. “Parents tell me the children, the families, are lonely. They don’t feel they can go to a Sabbath school or Pathfinders or Adventurers or church camps because they feel judged because of the children’s behaviour.” 

The tent was run by Pastor Peau Fua and his wife Julianne with the help of trained volunteers. The couple, who have a son on the autism spectrum, wanted to do something for parents and children facing similar challenges. 

“Attending the NNSW Big Camp for the past four years, our son never fitted in any of the tents. So my wife and I wanted to do something about it. We shared our vision with Colleen and what we wanted. She took it to the committee at the conference, and they also loved the idea,” recalled Pastor Fua. 

Running activities for most days throughout camp, the tent reached its capacity of 15 registered children. 

According to Mrs Savage, the initiative made a difference. “I had one parent come to me in tears saying that this is the first time her child’s been able to make friends at Big Camp because he found someone that’s similar to him.”

“Our main goal is to let the parents and the children know that they are precious and they are valued,” said Pastor Fua.

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