Teens with Asperger’s learn skills at camp

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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (AP) - On a recent Monday evening, seven teenagers, all of whom have Asperger’s syndrome, worked as a team, supported each other and problem-solved their way through the challenges of a low ropes course on UW-Eau Claire’s campus.

The sight was powerful, said Kay Hagedorn, co-coordinator of Camp Campus, a program that offers young adults with Asperger’s, a high-functioning form of autism, a chance to spend a week at UW-Eau Claire living as college students. The program, which started in 2009, is designed to make participants’ transition to college smoother.

The camp includes social skills development, financial management, fitness training and one-on-one meetings with academic faculty, the Leader-Telegram (http://bit.ly/1isk9Wu ) reported.

“It’s been great,” said Dan Allaire, camp participant from Stillwater, Minnesota.

Allaire said highlights of the camp have included meeting new people, such as his roommate for the week, Andrew Butterfield, and “knowing what it is like to live on a college campus.”

Butterfield, of Durand, said camp has been well worth it and has “lived up to its advertisements.”

Along with meeting faculty members from UW-Eau Claire, UW-Stout and Chippewa Valley Technical College, campers also meet with professionals within the area of study they hope to enter. For Butterfield, that meant a Skype conversation with a paleontologist from the Smithsonian Institution, an experience that “was a rush,” he said.

Hagedorn, who has worked with Julia Miller as Camp Campus co-coordinator for five years, said camp experiences often inspire participants and allow them to see what is needed to obtain their dream job.

“The goal is for them to know they can get a job, hold a job and support themselves,” Hagedorn said. “And a job that is on their level, not below it. They don’t need to work as grocery baggers instead of computer scientists or mechanical engineers, if that’s what they want to do.”

It also helps for community members to meet with the camp students, Miller said.

“There is a stereotype of what Asperger’s looks like, but this shows people what Asperger’s really is,” she said.

Hagedorn said the 10 UW-Eau Claire students who work as camp mentors benefit as much as participants.

Like many camp mentors, Chloe Gulich, a mentor for the past three years, is studying communication sciences and disorders. She said seeing participants’ growth during camp is rewarding.

When camp began in 2009, Emily Axelson and Amy Hilbert were communication sciences and disorders graduate students at UW-Eau Claire. Today they both work as speech-language pathologists but take a week off each summer to work at Camp Campus. The duo said they have seen mentors such as Gulich grow immensely because of camp.

“We have seen (Gulich) grow from being very shy when she started,” Hilbert said. “That is very rewarding for us. All our mentors are great.”

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