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Camp provides special summer for those with special needs

Camp provides special summer for those with special needs

By Michael Abramowitz, The Daily Reflector, Thursday, August 10, 2017

It’s been an “awesome” summer for about 40 Pitt County children whose special needs have not prevented them from having the same great experience of other children their age while gaining some important life-enhancing skills.

Members of the media were invited Wednesday to Camp Awesome at the Autism Society of N.C. Recreation Center on Reedy Branch Road in Winterville to see the impact of summer day camp on children ages 4-18 with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Autism Spectrum Disorder is a lifelong developmental disability that typically appears during the first three years of life. A study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates as many as one in 59 8-year-old schoolchildren in North Carolina may be diagnosed with the disorder.

Children ages 4-22 with ASD in Pitt and four other eastern North Carolina counties have been able to receive daily summer camp experiences for eight weeks through the Autism Society of North Carolina. The day camps, which are free to the participants, are funded by community reinvestment grants from Trillium Health Resources, the Greenville-based managed care agency that oversees services for individuals with substance use, mental illness, and intellectual/developmental disabilities in eastern North Carolina.

Amanda Rissmeyer, the center’s social recreation program director, explained the camp’s activities and how they serve the unique needs of individuals with autism.

“We do a lot of social recreation activities to help them develop social skills, an area of deficit for people with autism; health and wellness; arts and crafts; and music and motion activities,” Rissmeyer said.

Autism can affect individuals in many ways and people along the spectrum are vastly different, including their abilities to communicate, learn or build friendships, so the staff of Camp Awesome meet them wherever they are, whatever their needs may be, the program director said.

“One of the reasons this program succeeds so well is because we plan for the whole group and for each class, then prepare each counselor during a week of intensive training to support their individual campers’ needs,” Rissmeyer said.

“During the training, we talk about autism communication and behavior and all the basics of the spectrum, so when the campers arrive on the first day the counselors understand all the unique needs of individuals with autism,” the program director said.

Counselors then are matched one-on-one with their campers and given all the details about their specific campers’ characteristics and special needs. Signs and pictures abound on the walls, floors and in counselors’ hands because learners with autism typically respond better to visual cues over verbal directions.

Pitt County offers plenty of resources for the program, Rissmeyer said.

“We’re blessed to have our camp in this community because we’re surrounded by resources like Pitt Community College and ECU, which has programs in recreation therapy and speech and language pathology,” she said. “Many people entering these fields already are here, so we can draw in people who genuinely are passionate about this.”

Camp Awesome counselor Brittany Herring is working on her master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling at East Carolina University. She had worked with people with autism before in a camp setting, but said she wasn’t sure what to expect of this summer job.

“Once I got in here I was excited to see that all the kids were super-awesome,” Herring said. “I’ve enjoyed working with them, learning about people who are different from me.”

The staff at Trillium also were excited about the opportunity to partner with the Autism Society to serve so many children with autism spectrum disorder in eastern North Carolina.

“Social and recreational experiences like these allow the kids to thrive in an environment where they can interact with peers, experience a variety of camp activities that help them physically and mentally and gain a sense of independence,” said Trillium Project Coordinator Amy Corbitt.

This is the second summer of Camp Awesome and the second year that Trillium Health Resources has funded the summer camps across its service area.

When camp ends next week and school begins, the Autism Society of North Carolina will offer after-school programming for Pitt County children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Adult programs also will be offered at those locations.

For more information about autism and the Autism Society of North Carolina, visit online at www.autismsociety-nc.org.

Contact Michael Abramowitz at mabramowitz@reflector.com or 252-329-9507.

Camp provides special summer for those with special needs