Summer Camp for My Son and Yours: New Beginning for Teens and Adults with Autism
By Angela Day
”Unteachable.” That’s the label our school district put on my son, Mason Day, when he was three years old. They anchored him behind a desk and had him do the same task over and over…then wondered why, halfway through the year, he stopped doing it correctly.
Possibly because he was bored?
That never occurred to the school. When he was four years old, I started teaching him at home using Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), a teaching style targeted to children with autism. Within three months he went from completely non-verbal to a vocabulary of 123 words. By age seven he was promoted, with supports, to a regular classroom.
Speed forward a decade. Mason is in 11th grade and is 18 years old. He has worked at Hobby Lobby, the Lutheran Church, and TJ Max. He also volunteers at the Recycling Plant, one of the best unpaid helpers they’ve had. Mason works hard, stays on task, and strives for perfection, but recycling is not really satisfying to him. He feels unchallenged because he’s not working in his field of interest.
Mason wants to be an artist. Actually, Mason is an artist. He sells his art every year, in April, at Kerbey Lane Cafe, for The Art of Autism Project, sponsored by An Independent Me (AIM). AIM is opening as a summer camp, AIM Ranch, on June 11. Campers will be invited to stay on in the fall when AIM converts to a full-time vocational and residential community for adults with autism.
Mason’s father and I founded AIM. We see a huge void in Texas for quality programs for ASD adults, and we want to create a living space – call it an urban ranch, village, campus, or community – in which people with ASD can work, live, continue to learn, and thrive in a setting with dignity, safety, and life-long supports specific to their needs.
Mason wants to go to college and major in art, but that will be difficult. He’s smart enough; he’s disciplined in completing specific tasks. But he’s naive, vulnerable, and easily distracted. And he needs supports that are not found in most colleges today.
So we’re designing AIM Ranch as a summer camp to step in and provide supports for his college experience. AIM will teach study and vocational skills, art and trades, social and recreation skills, life skills, micro-businesses, and computer skills. Technical curriculum includes film making and the creative arts. This is a start up camp; we’re small and flexible; the list of activities grows to meet the needs of our residents, drawing on the passions of each. It all adds up to living with meaning.
The AIM Ranch , located in Cedar Park, just North of Austin, will allow Mason and other young adults on the ASD spectrum to enjoy a wide variety of vocational activities while promoting team development. All activities are adapted to meet the interests, skills and ages of students. The dedicated staff will positively reinforce the progress that Mason and other campers make in problem solving, interpersonal communications, self-assurance, and independent living. Arts and personal expression will be part of the camp’s curriculum. Mason himself will be teaching campers how to use YouTube to make and post videos.
Like many young people with ASD, Mason loves animals. The ranch includes two horses, three pigmy goats, and a dozen or so free-roaming chickens. A professional, dedicated hippotherapy coach will teach campers to ride and groom the horses and to care for the other animals. Learning to take care of something other than yourself is a valuable life lesson that everyone will share and enjoy at AIM Ranch.
How Can the Community Help us ‘Aim’ for Great Heights with AIM?
We’re working towards a cost model that includes…
• Enterprise income and corporate sponsorship
• Government programs
• Private pay plus “Sponsor a Camper” support
This summer, we’re building our corporate internships and enterprise programs, including our restaurant, modeled HERE. Longer term, we’re working to gain the support of Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (DARS) and Congressional buy-in from Washington as outlined HERE. Meanwhile, we’re dependent on private pay and “Sponsor a Camper” support.
How Can You Help?
We are in need of donors who can contribute $200, $400, or $500 to our Sponsor-a-Camper program. The operating cost for each student is $800 per week. Some families can pay that amount; many cannot. We have a waiting list of camper families who have called, hoping for a miracle, and three summer-long spots left. The camp will run from June 11 through August 17, with a maximum capacity of five students in residence. Campers can attend day-and-night or day-only sessions. They’ll receive individual attention, close and safe supervision, and have time to focus, and do hands-on activities until they reach a degree of proficiency.
Get to know my son Mason in this camper video as he looks forward to his first AIM Ranch experience. You can help him and others like him have a positive and productive summer at AIM.
Anyone is welcome to call me for more information on what this camp can provide. If you have a friend or family member who could benefit from living at AIM ranch for a week or all summer, call. And please call if you can donate your financial support, your expertise, time, or needed equipment, supplies and materials to make AIM Ranch a success this summer. Call 512-656-6364 or sign up and donate at the link below.
Donations are graciously accepted HERE.
Angela Day is married with two adult children, one daughter and one son with PDD/NOS. She participated in and managed her son’s successful in-home ABA program using college students for twelve years. Angela has a Bachelor’s of Science degree from University of Texas at Dallas and has been a computer programmer/analyst for over 20 years. She was the president of the National Autism Association of Central Texas for 4 years, on the board of The Autism Trust USA and also on the advisory board for Families for Autism and Immune Recovery.