The Colorado Rockies are an excellent place for thrill seekers. Opportunities for outdoor activities abound in every season, from mountain climbing or kayaking to snow-boarding and skiing. Camps offering these activities are a popular attraction, but most parents of children with autism figured they were probably out of reach – until now.
Extreme Sports Camp in the Roaring Fork Valley near Aspen, Colorado offers a full sleep-away camp experience to children, teens and adults with autism. They offer programs for winter and summer sports, as well as a weekend program and a work-skills program for adults. Camp participants have the opportunity to participate in various outdoor sports, including skiing, snow-boarding, rock climbing, hiking, kayaking, and other extreme sports.
Extreme Sports Camp was started in 2004 by Sallie Bernard, who wanted to offer her son, Bill, the same opportunities that his typically-developing brothers were enjoying at their sleep-away camps. She said:
“Sometimes we get so focused on academics, behaviour, or speech that we forget our children are people who have an inner life and need diverse experiences just like anyone else. If anything, children with autism need even more opportunities than typical children to access enough essential bridges to adulthood since they encounter so little of them in the highly structured, artificial environments to which they are routinely channelled. Sleep-away camp is one way to provide these diverse experiences.”
Extreme Sports Camps has a higher than 1:1 counsellor to camper ratio, and all staff members have extensive training working with people on the autism spectrum. Staff members use positive behavioural and communication supports, and are also certified instructors for the various sports offered through the program.
As participants learn new skills, their confidence grows, bringing benefits that go much further than just physical fitness. Bernard said:
“Camps are a place to build and maintain rewarding relationships. At camp, everyone is new and the playing field is level. Everyone has a chance to be good at something and not good at something, to mentor someone else and be mentored, to be a potential friend. There’s the cool factor too – of gaining some bragging rights when you show pictures of yourself scaling cliffs or navigating rapids. Classmates and siblings back home may be impressed too, and may see your child in a new light. opening up social opportunities outside of camp itself.”
Laura, a parent from Tennessee, said:
“My son not only had the time of his life at this camp, but he was given the opportunity to overcome so many of his fears. Our children are not often challenged to the extent that I believe they should be, for their best benefit. This one week adventure provided a supportive environment that allowed him to experience many things beyond his typical boundaries, and gave him the chance to gain confidence, overcome fears and anxieties, and feel better about confronting new and not always so welcoming opportunities in the future. He cried when we had to leave and wanted to know when we could come back.”
For more information about Extreme Sports Camp, visit their website at www.extremesportscamp.org.