Summer can be a difficult time for those with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Routines are different, and though camp sounds fun, finding the right fit can seem overwhelming.
Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center’s (SARRC) Summer Camp program eases the process, partnering with several summer camps in Arizona to provide inclusive programs for campers from infants through age 26.
That’s how Kurtis Leach found a perfect fit for his summer. Now age 24, this year marks his fifth summer at the TECH Camp, a week-long camp held at the University of Advancing Technology (UAT) in Tempe, in partnership with SARRC and New Way Academy.
For this experience, which is geared for ages 16-26, campers who have a strong interest in technology can live in dorms, participate in structured social activities, take classes in robotics or video game design, complete a group project and enjoy campus life. It is designed to help with the transition between high school and college life, learn the latest technology used in the current job market, and provide a deeper understanding of the skills needed for college life, such as admissions, academics, extracurriculars, life skills and social activities.
“Not only is it something I really enjoy,” says Leach, “but it really, really made me want to go into gaming. The school is incredible—the access to technology, the students, and just the environment of it altogether. The environment is right up my alley.”
Leach also points out that, as an adult with ASD, there are not a lot of programs that are specifically designed for him like this is.
“Those with autism get to go there and have a college experience without the fear, stress, etc. that you’d get if you actually were starting college. You learn how to apply to college, we stay in the dorms, meet new people, and we attend classes,” he explains. “It gives kids the college experience without the stress and pressure, in a safe environment. The schedule is made for them so it’s still well structured.”
The classes range from yoga, robotics, Japanese, 3D animation, coding, business technology, intro to career services and college cooking.
Although he is now an adult and has a job with Goodwill, Leach still enjoys going back to camp each summer. As a camp pro, he enjoys giving back and helping new campers.
“Just because of my age and because I’ve been there so many times, I try to help [the new campers] however I can and show them the ropes and be a mentor. It’s not officially, but unofficially. [I feel like] this week also allows me to give back to SARRC. They’ve done so much for me. All the skills I’ve learned, the people I’ve met, the friends I’ve made, how to properly behave and how to make my way in this world is all thanks to them.”
Other camps partnering with SARRC to offer inclusive programs include Phoenix Theatre (ages 8-16), Camp Daisy and Harry Stein Sleepaway Camp (ages 8-15), Camp Simcha Day Camp (infant-age 10) and camps at the Children’s Museum of Phoenix (ages 5-8).
Summer camp programs are available for a variety of interests and ages. To view current programs, click here.