Being different: a new camp assists kids with unique learning needs

From a young age, child educator Maki Narusawa began to appreciate that she was unlike many of her schoolmates. Always energetic, she struggled to pay attention in school, as her mind would frequently wander.

Nevertheless, her academic performance was strong, and few teachers questioned her nature. After all, no two people are the same and most adults concluded Narusawa was just an unusually vivacious kid.

Narusawa herself never understood why she wasn’t like everyone else. She was isolated from other children and she suffered bullying throughout her school years.

“Sometimes when I’m explaining this to kids, I still tear up and get a bit emotional,” she admits.

During her undergraduate studies at UBC, Narusawa’s grades began to founder, as the heavier post-secondary reading load took its toll. In her third year, it all started to make sense when a name was given to her condition.

“I was diagnosed with [the inattentive sub-set of] ADHD, and giftedness,” she recalls. “And I remember when I found out, I started crying. I kept thinking, ‘If I’m gifted, why can’t I write this paper, finish this reading, or this essay?’”

Following her diagnosis, among the most important lessons Narusawa learned were patience and self-acceptance.

“I have to be more forgiving to myself – remembering that if I forget something, or make a mistake, that it’s gonna happen, and the point is to be always trying.”

She has even designated a highly scientific name for the occasional mental lapses, a term that cracks up her young students: “brain farts.”

After studying psychology, Narusawa went on to specialize in education for children with learning differences. She works as a special education assistant with the North Shore School District, and is passionate about affording all children the opportunity to succeed both socially and academically.

Many of the kids Narusawa works with face the same issues that she confronted: social stigmas, frustration, and problems coping with the rigours of a traditional classroom environment.

Narusawa is the founder of Camp Connect—a summer camp for children aged six to 11 with learning differences—which she will inaugurate this summer at UBC. Through Camp Connect, she hopes to help gifted and challenged youngsters associate with others who are dealing with similar circumstances, and provide helpful exercises and positive reinforcement.

“Do I think the social aspect of learning differences gets neglected?” asks Narusawa. “Yes, I would say so. There’s really not much support [in schools] to work on things like social skills, and self-advocacy for children with learning differences. That’s part of the reason why I wanted to develop Camp Connect.”

The youngsters Narusawa hopes will enroll in her camp are children with ADD, ADHD, Asperger’s syndrome, and other social and learning-related challenges. Camp Connect will provide them with an accepting environment and a series of activities to improve confidence, self-esteem and interpersonal skills. It will also help parents and caretakers understand the difficulties created by dyslexia, ADHD and other learning differences.

“Adults often think ‘oh, they just need to focus more, they need to work harder and adhere to a schedule,’ but for some reason, a lot of people have a hard time getting their mind around dyslexia and ADHD, and it leads to a lot of frustration,” she said.

One of the aims of Camp Connect is to introduce parents to effective strategies to address their children’s learning difficulties and ease the associated stresses.

Camp Connect will be available in 4- and 5-day sessions beginning on July 3, at the UBC Aquatic Centre.

Related topics:

UBC Reports | Vol. 58 | No. 7 | Jul. 4, 2012

Camp Connect is a new UBC summer camp for children 6 to 11 with learning differences. iStockphoto/shapecharge Photograph

Camp Connect is a new UBC summer camp for children 6 to 11 with learning differences. iStockphoto/shapecharge Photograph

Share This

UBC Summer Camps Sampler

UBC summer 2012 camps offer kids sports, adventure, visual arts, music, and specialty options. New highlights include: two weeks of soccer at Templeton Park and Douglas Park, as well as four weeks of musical theatre. Another unique camp is “Lights, Camera, Action!” which gives budding film enthusiasts a chance to explore theatre sound and lighting, digital photography and film production.

Check out for full course descriptions.

Vancouver Campus

Young Explorer Summer Camps is a weeklong environmental and recreational adventure camp for children aged 7-11 at Canada’s oldest continually operating university botanical garden.

FarmWonders summer camps offer an innovative, educational program that allows children to explore issues of food security, and better understand where the food they eat comes

UBC Physics Outreach Summer Camps are for children in Grades 2-10 who enjoy building things and learning about science. Build planes, go SCUBA diving, learn the physics of sound, or build a Martian habitat.

GEERing Up! offers week-long science, technology and engineering camps for children in Grades 2 – 10.

TechTrek Summer Camps—Campers take computers to a whole new level, learning how to create cell phone apps, design games, program robots and more.

Gymnastics Camp—Children aged 4-12 will enjoy a week filled with gymnastics activities and games, arts and crafts, and more.

CampOUT! is an empowering outdoor summer camp for queer, trans, two-spirit, questioning, and allied youth aged 14-21 from across British Columbia and the

eHealth Camps give youth in grades 10-12 the opportunity to program health apps for smartphones, engage in health-training computer simulations, and go behind the scenes at hospitals and the TELUS Innovation

The Institute for Aboriginal Health’s Dentistry Program
is open to high school students who identify as First Nations, Métis or Inuit, and provides teens with the opportunity to learn and practice dentistry techniques. The camp is designed to encourage First Nations, Métis and Inuit enrolment in the dental profession, and takes place at the Nobel Biocare Oral Health Centre.

Okanagan Campus

U Camp offers themed week-long activity camps at UBC’s Okanagan campus. Camps include: Mini U, Kreative Kids, Multi-Sports, UBC Survivor, Geering Up and Outdoor Adventure.


Heat Athletics’ sports camps at the Okanagan campus give campers the opportunity to enhance their athletic skills in a fun and exciting way. Activities include Ultimate Frisbee, Basketball, Soccer, Volleyball and athletic conditioning.

More stories from this issue

a place of mind, The University of British Columbia

UBC Public Affairs
310 - 6251 Cecil Green Park Road
Vancouver, BC
Canada V6T 1Z1
Tel: 604.822.3131
Fax: 604.822.2684

Emergency Procedures | Accessibility | Contact UBC | © Copyright The University of British Columbia