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Autism Camps – Fun and Games, With a Goal

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 By Mark Scheerer, Public News Service - NY, Contact
July 27, 2009

ALBANY, N.Y. - Summer camps for children who have the communication and social interaction difficulties that characterize autism are filled this time of year with kids having fun as they receive therapeutic attention, while their families get a vacation, too.

It may not be too late this summer for families with autistic children to participate in one of many day camps or sleep-away camps around New York State. Camp Huntington, in High Falls, is one private residential camp where enrollment is still open. Director Daniel Falk says his campers with socialization and communication difficulties find camp is not ALL fun and games.

"Fun and games are certainly a basis, however. Camp is fun in the summer, similar to a vacation or time away from your normal routine during the rest of the year, and when kids are in that mode, we're able to layer in therapeutic goals."

Dr. Ronald Leaf is a director of Autism Partnership, Seal Beach, Calif., which runs day camps for autistic children. Unlike during the school year, when the rigors of teaching autistic children often are intense, the summer camp environment can gently provide continued therapeutic progress, he says.

"Within sports and soccer and baseball and water activities, the whole array really is emphasizing socialization, recreation and communication."

Falk says autism camps represent a chance for parents and siblings to get a summer break, too. Because tuition can be expensive - as much as $1,900 a week - Falk estimates 70 percent of his camp's families find some form of tuition assistance - frequently from non-profit organizations.

Falk says tough economic times are making it hard for some families to send their kids to Camp Huntington.

"I often steer families to the Foundation Center in New York City to do research and find groups that will grant tuition assistance to kids."

Some school districts will help with summer camp tuition, Falk says, and his camp also can arrange financial assistance through an independent loan organization.

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