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POP Camp

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UMD Offers Autism Spectrum Disorders Camp and Certificate Program

One of the events on the last day was a pizza party.

Enthusiastic, lively, and unique are a few words to describe the 41 kids who participated in this year’s Pieces of the Puzzle (POP) Camp. During August, this five-day active camp provided children who have social difficulties related to Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), or other social communication disorders, an opportunity to have fun and work together as a group.  

POP is made possible though a partnership with UMD’s Department of Education, Facilities, Outdoor Recreation, Physical Education, and the Courage Center Duluth. The program staff, hope the camp will expand so they can accommodate more campers. Pring said, “Every child and young adult with ASD should have the chance to go to camp.”

Co-director Jill Pring believes that individuals with ASD are successful at POP Camp due to the ASD-specific structures and supports that are in place at the camp. Pring said, “Individuals with ASD often have a difficult time engaging in social experiences and do not make friends easily. Camp staff is trained to specifically support the social needs of these campers while encouraging them to participate in structured activities that promote cooperation and social engagement.”

The ASD population is sometimes teased or bullied due to their social difficulties. That isn’t the case at POP Camp.  The camp staff embraces the campers in an open and friendly environment. Volunteers encourage campers to be who they are without the fear of being teased, by emphasizing that each child is unique and valued.

Campers enrolled in the five-day camp are introduced to a variety of activities such as: social recreation activities (biking, disc golf, geocaching, hikes, swimming), arts and crafts, technology (using iPads, digital cameras, and maintaing blog posts), and field trips to area locations. With support from volunteers, campers participate in activities that they may have never experienced before.

This year, over 20 volunteers joined the camp co-directors Pring, Peg Ferguson, and Brenda Johnson for the week. UMD student and fine arts major Zachary Gorr was especially excited to help students with arts and crafts. He helped students with a stained-glass project using colored beads. He also guided students on a tile-painting project where small painted squares became a large mural. Gorr said, “Coming from an art background, it’s great to watch the kids be so specific with their stroke and their composition. It’s so fulfilling.”

Joey blogging on an iPad  
Joey Kotiranta blogging on an iPad.  

Campers also work with new technologies and programs such as blogging using an iPad. A blog is set up for each age group, and each individual gets to write about his or her experiences at the end of each day of camp. Camper Joey Kotiranta was especially eager to add his favorite activities to his blog. The blog is used for campers to express their thoughts and communicate their feelings through typing. Only parents and staff have access to the blog, and it gives campers a way to collect their thoughts and communicate more effectively. Campers have access to the blog even after the camp is over to keep in touch with their new friends.

The 41 campers are broken into four smaller groups dependent upon age: grades K-3, 4-6, and 7-12. Two “Girl Talk” groups were also set up.

Specific activities reflected the age groups. Patrick Watson was in the Grades 7-12 group. He said his favorite activity of POP Camp was riding bikes. “It was a lot of fun riding a tandem bike,” he said. “I’ve never ridden a bike that had seats for two people.” He also added, “Tandem bikes are different from ordinary bikes. These bikes have more motor control for people with Autism, which makes it a lot easier for me to ride.”

Trudie Hughes, associate professor, Department of Education and director of the Autism Teaching Certificate Program, was pleased with this year’s camp. “I think the campers benefited greatly by meeting new people that had similar challenges that they experience in their everyday lives,” she said. “Campers learned how to get along with other people in a social environment while still having structure to accomplish various goals throughout the day.”

A highlight for Pring was when a camper ran up to her on the last day and said, “My favorite part of POP Camp was…well…everything! I had the time of my life here, and I’m looking forward to next year.”

UMD Autism Spectrum Disorders Certificate Program

3 members of the Autism Spectrum Disorders Certificate Program  
(From Left) Zachary Gorr, Isabelle Bogen and Teressa Haglin are three participants in the UMD Autism Spectrum Disorders Certificate Program.  

Gorr is one of several college student camp volunteers enrolled in UMD’s Autism Teaching Certificate Program.  The program, which has been cited as a leading example in Minnesota, offers a graduate and an undergraduate certificate. The three-course online series is an opportunity for students to expand their knowledge and expertise in the area of ASD. Participants in the 12-credit certificate learn research-based best practices consistent with Minnesota Department of Education competencies. The program is designed for special education teachers, prospective teachers, paraprofessionals, and other related professionals who work with children and youth with Autism Spectrum Disorders. The certificate is designed to be completed in one year.

For more information contact: Trudie Hughes, 218-726-7174 or Jill Pring, 218-393-1538.

Written by Kelly Kemper, August 2012

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