Magic round the camp fire

Summer Of Hope
By Ian Cotton
Simon amp; Schuster pound;16.99

Where would you send a bunch of autistic children for their summer holidays? A therapy centre in California perhaps? Or a specially equipped and professionally staffed care facility in Devon?

Well, there's this rough-and-tumble scout camp in some woods just off the M4 where they'd be cared for night and day by ordinary kids from the East End of London. Why not give it a go? The place is called Camp Mohawk, and against all the odds and for reasons that are hard to pin down, the arrangement seems to work.

Ian Cotton, a freelance writer and former teacher (English, drama, history and, occasionally, weight-lifting in secondary schools in the late Sixties and early Seventies), stumbled on this unique set-up by accident. He was so intrigued by what he saw beneath the oaks and beeches of this magical spot that he asked Roy Howgate, Camp Mohawk's larger-than-life director, if he could spend a year behind the scenes of the project. Skip, as the big man is known, agreed, and the result is a book that almost restores your faith in human nature.

Or if not human nature, then children's nature. And if not all children, then that group of
pre-adolescents whose inherent generosity and optimism have yet to be completely washed away by a tide of angry hormones.

Picture the scene. Camp Mohawk in Berkshire, complete with camp fire and canvas and an assortment of self-built huts for administration and catering, is the summer home of a scout troupe based at Beckton in the London borough of Newham. Skip and his team of leaders believe that "adults should be seen and not heard", and so the scouts, and more especially their six-week summer camp, embody the sort of child-centred attitudes to which most educators rarely pay more than lip service.

And into this working-class Summerhill, this little kingdom of 12-year-old boys, are delivered every year dozens more boys suffering from that most baffling and challenging of disabilities, autism.

The full version of this review appears in this week's TES

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