(LAS CRUCES) — Summer camp…that place where kids play outside and enjoy the freedom away from school.
“We went swimming rock climbing horseback riding and archery,” said Hannah.
For Hannah, it’s no different…except that she has autism. That’s what brings her to Camp New Amigos, a camp for young people with the disorder held on the campus of New Mexico State University in the summer.
She’s been going the last three years. This year, she met Annie.
“We became friends right away on Monday. So we just got each other’s phone numbers,” said Hannah.
Annie’s here for the first time. “We’re gonna try to go to the mall and stuff get together – because we’re teenagers. She’s 17 and I’m 15.”
They’re already making plans for the summer. “Maybe we could have a sleepover so that might be one thing or go over to each other’s houses or…might go swimming,” said Annie.
Camp New Amigos is now in its fourth year. Fifty-five kids came this year. A lot of the volunteers and counselors tell me this isn’t the first year they’ve been here.
Luke Mitchell came back, even though he lives and works on autism research in Colorado.
“So I was in town this past week for my brother’s wedding and it happened to coincide with the week that camp was occurring so I decided to stay on.”
Mitchell knows what challenges people with autism face.
“These people are just people just doing their best to get through their day-to-day and experience life.”
But he knows what’s really important — especially for kids just trying to grow up.
“Some of them have more challenges than others, but when it comes down to it, they’re still just regular kids and they need a chance to kind of unwind and have fun and play.”
Having studied autism, he realizes it takes a lot of resources.
“Most of the time these camps can be very expensive.”
The hearts for autism fund funds this camp. Parents only have to pay a $25 registration fee.
Dr. Kathleen Cronin has organized the camp all four years. She’s also a professor at NMSU, teaching grad students how to work in the field of autism.
“I feel like the proud mama and it’s actually all my babies as they refer to themselves as.”
One of her babies as she calls them is Tony Bobazilla. “It would go hand in hand with my social work and my line of work that I would be doing.”
He graduated this year from the program and says that while children may share symptoms, no two are exactly alike.
“You’re always going to have somebody different even though they have the same diagnosis and you can have somebody who’s very high functioning, they’re able to have a simple conversation with you versus other children who are non-verbal, so that’s where it’s like you have those who are very high functioning versus those that are very low functioning.”
Autism is a developmental disorder that the medical journal ‘pediatrics’ calls “the fastest-growing” among young people.
Researchers of autism like Bobazilla refer to a triad of impairment.
Socialization deficits, communication deficits, and behavioral quirks like repetitive behaviors are among them.
Some of the hallmark signs include a child who doesn’t respond to their name by 12 months, who doesn’t engage in social play and who has physical ticks or quirks.
According to the CDC about 1 in 110 children are affected by autism.
Everyday someone, somewhere makes a new friend. But one week every summer, a group of people who might not otherwise meet is making a different kind of relationships.
“The opportunity to have children come together…not be criticized or judged…I think it’s awesome,” said Bobazilla.
“…Because I spend so much time with them. They’re in 4 classes…you get to know them…they see me completely different…I’m not the professor in class,” said Dr. Cronin.
Relationships that run deep.
Sloan Patton reported.