Six-year-old Marshall Wingfield loves people, but he becomes overwhelmed in public and has always been a bit of a homebody, his mom says.
“He wants so much to fit in and have friends,” said Elaina Wingfield of her son, who was diagnosed with autism last year during his kindergarten year. “But his challenges make that very difficult. He doesn’t understand personal space, proper speech volume, or the social cues that come natural to us.”
This summer, Marshall found a place where he could make friends and be himself: ASNC’s new Greenville summer camp. “This is the first place he’s ever been that he wants to come back every day,” his mom said. “Marshall made friends that he wouldn’t have met otherwise. He felt confident attending the camp.”
Marshall liked it so much that he is attending the new afterschool program, as well. “It’s quiet, and they know how I am,” he explained to his mother when she asked why he wanted to go. After camp, he didn’t have to spend hours decompressing at home as he does after being in other environments, such as grocery stores, Elaina said. And they have a pool; one of Marshall’s favorite activities besides Minecraft is swimming. “He knew when they would go and how many days he’d have to wait,” she said.
The new programs in Greenville are part of an array of Social Recreation programs in four Eastern NC locations made possible by funding from Trillium Health Resources. The initiative supports children and adults with autism through programs in underserved areas of the state, helping them to improve their social and communication skills, peer networks, and physical well-being.
Social Recreation Services Director Sara Gage said, “We want them to feel love for who they are. We like to provide an environment that understands them and gives them the opportunity to flourish just as they are.”
Summer Day Camp ran from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays with a counselor-to-camper ratio of 1:1 or 1:2 based on self-help and behavioral needs. Campers ages 4-22 enjoyed swimming, arts and crafts, gym time, and all of the typical camp activities in Greenville, Wilmington, Carteret County, and Brunswick County. “As a parent, I loved getting the many arts and crafts they did,” Elaina said. “He even colored! He colored! He hates to color!”
In addition to benefiting the individuals with autism, the programs help families by providing respite and care tailored to individuals with autism. “This camp meant peace of mind,” Elaina said. “Like so many parents of autistic children, we weren’t in a financial position to pay for a summer camp that could or would accommodate his needs. Anything extra we have these days is going to medications, co-pays, and deductibles.”
For Parker Samples’ parents, the day camp in Carteret County meant they could both keep their jobs this summer. Parker is a goofy and funny 12-year-old, always seeking any attention he can get. But he also has trouble communicating his wants and needs, and this can lead to frustration and meltdowns. Parker has always had to be taken care of by a family member rather than going to a camp during his school breaks or an afterschool program with other children.
His parents have made many career decisions based on what is best for their son, from cutting their hours, to giving up overtime, to passing up better positions in favor of schedule flexibility. This summer, they planned for his father, Bud, to quit his job to care for Parker during the days and find another job at night.
But then Parker was accepted to the new day camp. Much more than saving their jobs, the camp made Parker happy. “I think his favorite parts of camp are all the people,” Bud said. “All the attention he gets from everyone, even when it disrupts what they are doing at the time, is always so positive.
“I really can’t convey how this summer has helped Parker and us at home, just knowing that there really are people who care and understand what these special kids need. It’s not just a place for them to go during the summer, it’s not just the pool and bouncy houses – which are awesome – it’s the people that you trust with your kid, to make sure they are happy and safe and more so understood.
“There are reasons that they act how they do sometimes, from fear to anxiety or maybe they just don’t like the color a wall is,” he said. “And this was a whole house of people that understood all of that, and more than just understood, they accepted it and Parker into their hearts.”
To learn more
For more information about ASNC’s Social Recreation programs, please go online to www.autismsociety-nc.org/socialrecreation or contact the director for your area:
- Greenville: SRP_Greenville@autismsociety-nc.org
- Wilmington: SRP_Wilmington@autismsociety-nc.org
- Brunswick: SRP_Brunswick@autismsociety-nc.org
- Carteret County: SRP_Carteret@autismsociety-nc.org
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