The Second Annual Texas State Autism Summer Camp began in July. The camp is a partnership with the Texas State Department of Health and Human Performance, the Clinic for Autism Research, Evaluation and Support and the San Marcos Consolidated School District.
Andrea Pastrano-Tamez, Sebastian Tamez’s mother, said she was “amazed” to find the C.A.R.E.S. Autism Summer Camp. She found out about the camp through a parent at Kinetic Kids, a San Antonio organization that provides physical and creative activities to children with special needs.
Sebastian Tamez was diagnosed with autism and 3p Minus Syndrome, a rare chromosome disorder that affects 25 people in the U.S.
Pastrano-Tamez said children with autism do not have many opportunities for recreational activities. She said even though she and her family live in San Antonio, she registered Sebastian for all four, one-week camp sessions.
The four one-week C.A.R.E.S. Autism Summer Camp sessions are geared toward 5- to 11-year-olds with Autism Spectrum Disorders in San Marcos and surrounding areas.
Ting Liu, Department of Health and Human Performance assistant professor, said an extra one-week session was added to this year’s C.A.R.E.S. summer camp because of parent demand. Each of the sessions has accepted the maximum number a registrants with a total of 40 campers.
“I’ve talked to parents who tell me they don’t have anywhere to send their children in the summer, they tell me there’s no place for them to go, they get rejected,” Liu said.
She said the idea of starting a children’s autism summer camp came her first year teaching at Texas State in 2009. She has worked with The Texas Autism Project at the University of Texas-Austin.
Liu said she started the camp to provide children with autism an opportunity to participate in a safe, fun-filled environment.
“Parents know no one is going to laugh at their child,” Liu said. “The campers feel confident, safe and comfortable.”
Liu said changes in the campers can be seen over the course of the summer camp session.
Pastrano-Tamez said her son has gained confidence thanks in part to his camp counselor, Abram Cantu-Carranza, exercise and sports science junior.
Counselors monitor campers at a variety of creative, educational and physical recreational stations. Liu said once a week counselors and campers go swimming at the Texas State Student Recreation Center.
“All these students that are taking their time during the summer to help a child with special needs are making an impact, not only on the child, but on the whole family‘s lives,” Pastrano-Tamez said. “It gives us a sense that, ‘OK, my kid can go to summer camp too.’”
Pastrano-Tamez said Sebastian’s speech and occupational therapists in San Antonio have told her that he is more focused and interested in activities than before he attended the camp.
Kelly Hargraves, returning C.A.R.E.S. counselor, said she has witnessed a positive change in the camper she is paired with. She said the camper is less aggressive and more focused.
“The kids just need a little support and encouragement,” Hargraves, Autism and Applied Behavior Analysis graduate student, said. “Camp is a place where they can be themselves.”
Liu said counselors and campers are paired with each other based on personal history and experience. She said counselors are Texas State students within the Department of Health and Human Performance, Department of Psychology and Department of Curriculum and Instruction.