Guest Author - Bonnie Sayers
The C.A.M.P.ers at C.A.M.P. - Children with Autism Making Progress are between the ages of four and fifteen, for boys and girls on the autism spectrum. Over the years the number of classes have increased with the age range widening. There are seven children to a class with two experienced and trained staff. They also have volunteers in each room. Children do not need their own one on one aide at C.A.M.P. - Children with Autism Making Progress. I was a bit hesitant signing my younger son up three years ago without an aide since he uses one at school.
The Director and founder of the C.A.M.P. - Children with Autism Making Progress, Kristin Capalbo observed my son at school upon my request to determine whether he could be admitted to the camp. Kristin assured me that my non-verbal son would fit in with the class system and have plenty of adult assistance with teacher and assistant.
Camp is in session for six weeks starting after the July 4th holiday. This is always mid-week with one day as an open house for families to come and meet the teacher, see the classroom and help the C.A.M.P.er become acquainted with the classroom and surroundings. My younger son was going to be in the classroom his older brother had been in two years earlier and was familiar with this room. The camp takes place on a Catholic School campus with air conditioning during the months of July and August. They are in a quiet neighborhood with water fountains in the classrooms and cubby holes for each child to keep their daily items.
There are many alumni families as well as several with more than one child attending camp. The siblings might be close in age or the same age if twins, but they will not be in the same classroom. The funding process through the Regional Center is separate for each family member. Two years ago I had to get some letters to back up the necessity of camp for my children. You have to be prepared for reasons why the State should pay $250.00 plus per week for your child to attend camp and why you are not using ESY - extended school year through special education.
The ESY is usually for three weeks while C.A.M.P. - Children with Autism Making Progress is a six-week program. Two years ago the Elementary school my children attend changed from a year-round school to a traditional school calendar. This left my older son with four months off of school and the school was not open during the summer. I still had to push and fight for this to be funded. I was able to get funding for five weeks and had to pay for one week for each child. C.A.M.P. will accommodate you with monthly payment plans, but you must be paid in full before next session or risk losing your spots.
All vendors within the Regional Center System need to submit applications. Once that process has been approved then the C.A.M.P. Director mails out the camp information to the alumni families with the waiting list families one month later, or there about. The first packet of materials arrives early in April with an enrollment form to send back quickly letting them know your intent on attending the current year and listing Regional Center information as well as payment information. The other option is to send back saying you have other plans this summer, but would like to keep your child on the list for the next year. This form must be sent back or you will be taken off the mailing list. This form gives them a head count so they know how many from the waiting list to contact and get an idea on if this will be a Regional Center funding or part family payment, etc.
The next packet of materials includes the following to fill out, sign and return in a timely manner:
1. Emergency Information Form
2. Child Communication and Preference Information
3. Permission Form to use C.A.M.P. photos
4. Permission Form for Video
5. Permission Form to use Written Communication
6. Pick up Authorization Form
7. Permission & Release Form for off-campus trips and private cars.
8. Summer goals - this is a 2-page document that covers communication, social, self-help/independence, functonal skills, classroom readiness, leisure, behavior, pre-academic/academic.
Then any additional information to help them design a program, areas you want assistance with and how you have started implementing goals at home.
I sit down with the current IEP’s of both my children and use them as a reference point. An IEP is the Individual Education Plan, done on an annual basis and usually at the end of the school year. The form for child communication has systems listed with parents having to underline current methods being used. They are speech, vocalizations, sign language, laughing/crying, PECS, communication board, gestures, communication book, gestures (pointing/eye gaze). Then some questions like how does your child let someone know they like something and dislike.
Children must be toilet trained, but they will make case by case decisions as my younger son is not trained and both years there were a few other kids as well. Children with self-injurious behavior or are a danger to other children are not admitted due to safety concerns. On Mondays and Fridays they have water play with Tuesdays and Thursdays the days for community walks.
One day per week lunch is provided, which means they usually make something in the classes. This 2005 summer session is the tenth year anniversary for the C.A.M.P. -Children with Autism Making Progress with the addition of a fourth class.
There is also a potluck dinner one night and a directory is published listing family names, addresses and ages of kids. This was my suggestion back in 2001 and by looking over this before going back it reminds my son who was there. You get a small photo packet of the pictures that were taken over the summer. This helps me prepare my kids for the next summer in early spring.
The first day the staffers take photos of the children with a polaroid and use this with the daily schedule. On the wall in each classroom is a schedule for each child. They are PECS cards showing the daily events with an arrow to point to as they go about their day. For older children that are verbal there are words describing the activities. At the circle time area there is a calendar with pockets to place larger cards showing where they will be going that month, then the children who are at C.A.M.P. that day have their photos and then the same schedule for them to go over. I am glad that they use chairs for circle time and not sitting on the floor like they do at school. There is a small refrigerator and I pack lunches for my kids in Arctic Zone bags with frozen ice. These are kept in their cubbies as well, and I place cartons of soymilk in the refrigerator.
During Open House is when I bring backpacks for each cubby hole. Towels and bathing suit, sunblock, socks, underwear, diapers and wipes are placed accordingly. Then I brought snacks to keep in there. A communication notebook is done on a daily basis between teacher and home so you can see how your child did during the day or reacted to an event or activity. At the end of the six-week session you will receive the packet of photos, directory and a progress report with the goals obtained during C.A.M.P. Each attendee gets a t-shirt the last day and parents have a form to order adult and other shirts for siblings.
C.A.M.P.ers use computers and do work with teacher on a rotating basis, they cook and play games. The trips they go on are to the grocery store where they pick out items and pay, the library and post office are on a weekly basis. I received photos of my children at the store. Depending on the age group of the class they go together. There are also trips to the park where they are driven. Children are not permitted to bring money and have them get special items while on trips.
Other trips they have done are bowling, movies and miniature golf. The first year my son did the bowling and enjoyed it. They also go to Burger King and Round Table Pizza. Children can bring their own lunch on days they go out and they will bring it. Since my younger son is enrolled in a feeding clinic in the same area I had his therapist meet us at the Open House his first year there, so she could meet the Director and Teacher. We made arrangements for the therapist to go to school weekly and do his visits there and assist the teacher in feeding him.
The first year my son went we did see a child’s therapist come to the C.A.M.P. This needs to be reviewed ahead of time if you want a therapy to continue while at C.A.M.P. A change of clothing is also needed for kids, no matter what age. The bathrooms at this school campus are very clean and self flush, but they put a post it note over it so this does not scare kids with issues.
There are books in the classrooms and they do arts and crafts in the basement. The walls are lined each afternoon with the artwork and designs of C.A.M.P.ers. The program is committed to providing “typical” experiences to children with autism in a C.A.M.P. setting. For children who have never attended C.A.M.P. and are over the age of ten they will require a meeting with the Director to determine appropriateness of the program. The children in this age group start learning independence in domestic and pre-vocational tasks.
A snack and drink is provided daily at C.A.M.P. It is imperative that you share diet details to the C.A.M.P. since they do baking in the classroom and ingredients may be ones your child is avoiding. The first few minutes each morning upon arrival you can let the teacher know anything important or have it noted in the book. There is also a form to sign when you pick up your child. My high-functioning son last year burned his hand on the hot plate when they were cooking in the room. I expected my nonverbal son to have an accident and did not consider my other son doing such a thing. He claimed he did not know it was hot. A form was filled out and sent to the Regional Center. They came to observe the room and make recommendations for future cooking sessions. We saw the Pediatrician and bandaged his hand for several days.
There are families that have grandparents or therapists pick up their children. Remember this when it is time to sign forms and list them.
This is a great experience for children with autism to learn in a controlled environment and keep the pace of learning through the summer. The trips are more organized and entertaining than the school ones and the weekly trips to the store and post office help my children get accustomed to these trips.
Even though this C.A.M.P. is located in Southern California, others can get an idea of what to look for in a camp environment closer to home. There may be others that are considering starting a camp. Children with Autism Making Progress is a good model to emulate.
Camp articles to peruse - Choosing a Camp for a child with autism and Camp questions for families with autistic children
Portions of this article were previously published on Epinions
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Educational Autism Tips for Families 71 page resourceful ebook for families entering the school system with a recent autism diagnosis. Find out what issues take place over the course of a school day and meet these challenges head on.