Sunday, July 13, 2014

Camp offers summer fun for children with autism

This camp is in Florida.  There should be one in every state!  

Joshua Johnston would sit alone and cry every day when he first attended a summer camp for
children and young adults with autism five years ago.

Not anymore. Now, the lanky 12-year-old smiles while playing musical chairs, hitting balls with foam polo sticks and playing catch with the help of counselors from OCA, a local group that serves people with disabilities. The letters in the organization's name stand for Opportunity, Community, Ability.

OCA camp provides a classic summer experience for children and young adults whose autism or other disabilities mean they often have few other options. Now in its fifth year, OCA extended camp to nine weeks, serving 125 campers at two sites. An additional 25 are on a waiting list.

"What any other child or adult would do, we want to offer those opportunities," said Silvia Haas, OCA executive director. Her youngest son, Matthew, is a 19-year-old camper.

Staffers and student volunteers, many of whom have family members with disabilities, work to create a setting as much like a "typical" camp as possible. Haas sees volunteers, some of whom are older campers, as models of behavior.

"You're coming here to hang out with your friends," she tells them.

The campers, who range in age from 4 to 21, swim; play soccer and other sports; make arts and crafts; and go on field trips. But they also get time for music therapy, occupational therapy and work on their social skills. The camp operates a main site at the Eastbrook YMCA in Winter Park and a smaller site at West Orange High School.

Music therapy is a particular highlight, with students getting a chance to drum, shake bells and dance. After getting knocked out of a game of musical chairs, Joshua bounced right back up and took a seat to listen as Allison Hayward of Joyful Music Therapy played guitar and passed a beach ball among students.

A group of parents started OCA started about six years ago to offer Special Olympics for families with children at Princeton House Charter School. It has expanded since to include after-school programs, summer camp and vocational training for young adults who have finished school.

Joshua's mother, Edda Dulce, said there are few places she can take Joshua in the summer because he does not speak and likes to wander. His brother, Jacob, 10, also has autism and attends the camp.

"It gives them a place to go where people know exactly what their needs are," she said.

Click HERE to read the whole story at the Orlando Sentinel

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