INDEPENDENCE– A sing-a-long is just one of the activities at a summer camp in Independence run by The Autism Society of Greater Cleveland. Here, children with autism, between the ages of three and 22, are paired with typical peers. “Autism is a disorder that affects socialization and communication," Dr. Max Wiznitzer, a child neurologist with Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital said. The camp is based on the concept of inclusion. "It gives the children with developmental disabilities, this case with autism, peers with whom to interact and to practice interaction," Dr. Wiznitzer added.
While the focus is on having fun, this is also an academic based camp. It gives campers a comfortable place to learn. "The goal is that they that learn to improve their social skills. Learn how to learn from others and to be accepted. Many of these kids don't have an opportunity to just feel accepted by other peers,” Eileen Hawkins, President of The Autism Society of Greater Cleveland said.
A.J. Gallucci, 14, has been coming to this camp since 2009. "I hang out with them and make new friends. So, this is actually a good camp to make new friends with," he said.
The campers and their peer partners purposely engage in the same activities. "It’s critical for young people who are on the spectrum in the autism society to have positive experience and positive role models and be immersed into normal summertime activities that people normally do all the time," Camp Director Jim Wotowiec said.
Dr. Wiznitzer said that is the way inclusion works. “The fact that they are putting them with their typical peers gives them the opportunity to really see how you should do things, whom you should do it with,” he added.
This is a two-week camp. And, even in a such a short time, there can be some lasting results. "It's the one-on-one attention. The constant interaction with the children, getting them moving, and going, that really can help," Peer Volunteer Elena Pararizios said.
A.J. said the camp is the best thing he does all year. “This is an awesome camp and I will always continue to go every year," he added. More information about the camp can be found on the website of The Autism Society of Greater Cleveland.
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