If camp is a summer rite of passage for kids, there is one camp in San Diego making sure it includes all kids.
For the thirteenth year, Camp I Can is going on at the Toby Wells YMCA. More than 100 kids per summer go through the one-week-long camps at two different sites in San Diego County.
Every one of those kids has something in common: they are all on the autism spectrum.
Susie Horton’s son, Troy, has been going to the camp for six summers. She says it’s a place where the kids don’t have to feel different.
“It’s kind of a sixth sense that they have,” she said. “They all kind of know that they’re similar and they can feel comfortable to be themselves.”
The advantage of the camp is all the staff members are specially trained to work with kids who have special needs. The camp also keeps a high ratio of staff to camper to make sure the kids get enough attention.
However, that’s also the disadvantage.
Keeping the camps smaller means there’s limited space. Amy Munera with the Autism Society of San Diego said there’s a wait list every year and kids can only go for one week, rather than the entire summer.
“We don’t have that availability with the funding we have in line,” she explained. “So, we’re constantly trying to raise more money.”
The Autism Society helps subsidize the camp to make it more affordable for families. Munera said parents only pay about $250 per week, which is far less than a typical summer day camp.
Munera said she does not know of any other programs like this.
In the meantime, the number of kids diagnosed with autism in the U.S. continues to grow.
According to the most recent numbers from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), one in every 68 kids is now somewhere on the spectrum for Autism. Those 2010 numbers are more than double the number of one in every 150 kids back in the year 2000.
Munera said it’s still not clear if there are more cases, or better diagnoses.
“Whatever is causing it, we want to make sure we have programs and things available to these children and to their families,” she said.
Horton said her son was on the wait list this year and she worried he would not get in. She said her son looks forward to Camp I Can all year.
“He comes home with a huge smile,” she said. “He feels like this is his family.”
For more information on how you can help Camp I Can, click here.