This year, Virgin Islands children with autism enjoyed a typical summer camp experience alongside peers without disabilities thanks to a partnership between St. Croix-based Island Therapy Solutions (ITS) and several camps on St. Croix and St. Thomas. This is the first inclusive summer camp program in the territory created specifically to meet the needs of children on the autism spectrum in a typical camp setting.
Children with autism commonly have difficulty communicating, regulating their emotions and navigating social situations. These deficits can make going to summer camp more challenging for them. To help the program participants overcome their challenges, ITS supports each child with a dedicated behavioral therapist trained in applied behavioral analysis (ABA) so that they can enjoy and learn from their camp experience.
For the third consecutive year, AZ Academy on St. Croix has worked with ITS to accommodate children with autism in their popular summer camp, which includes activities such as sports, kayaking, swimming, hiking and field trips. The St. Thomas Reformed Church has collaborated with ITS for two summers in a row, integrating children with autism into their summer camp program at Magens Bay, where campers enjoy swimming lessons, Bible study, drama, music and other recreational activities.
This year, an additional camp at Nurturing Minds Daycare participated in the program on St. Croix. In all, 18 children with autism ranging in age from 2 to 17 were able to attend the camp programs.
“In the Virgin Islands there are extremely few activities that cater to the special needs of children on the autism spectrum, and we want to change that,” said Lindsy Wagner Ph.D., a licensed clinical psychologist and the founder of ITS. “We developed this program not only to fill the need of a growing number of families but also to show the community that an inclusive model can be successful,” she said. “As autism rates worldwide continue to rise, as a community we need to look at ways to make all aspects of community life accessible to children with autism.”
One parent said, “I am so grateful for this program that allows my daughter to enjoy a regular camp just like any other child. Our children are often excluded from many activities so we are really fortunate to have a program like this that recognizes that all children deserve to be included.”
Pastor Jeffrey Neevel of the St. Thomas Reformed Church said, “We all know the familiar John 3:16 passage, “For God so loved the whole world…” but how does someone experience that all-inclusive love if they are not able to access, or are excluded from, the community of faith? This partnership has simply allowed our church to extend that love in a very meaningful and lasting way to these children with autism and to their families. It’s like witnessing a little bit of the kingdom of heaven right here on earth.”
Already planning ahead, Wagner is seeking additional camps with which to partner next summer so that more children can participate. She envisions a future for the V.I. where children with autism are given the same opportunities for private education and recreational activities. “When given the chance and the right supports, it is really amazing to see what our children can accomplish and how they can contribute to society.”
For more information, please call at 719-7007.
About Island Therapy Solutions Island Therapy Solutions is a St. Croix-based practice founded in 2009 that offers comprehensive psychological and related services to patients on St. Croix, St. Thomas and St. John. Services include psychological testing and therapy, group therapy, medication management, occupational therapy, speech therapy, applied behavioral analysis and physical therapy.
The practice specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of learning disabilities, neurological disorders and autism spectrum disorders in children. In addition, it conducts social skills groups for children with autism as well as parent support groups. Recently ITS has launched services for adults, including individual therapy, group therapy, marriage counseling, psychological testing, substance abuse treatment and psychiatric services.
For more information, visit www.islandtherapysolutions.com or call 719-7007.
About Autism Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and autism are both general terms for a group of complex disorders of brain development. These disorders are characterized in varying degrees by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication, and repetitive behaviors.
Autism statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) identify approximately 1 in 68 American children as on the autism spectrum–a ten-fold increase in prevalence in 40 years. Careful research shows that this increase is only partly explained by improved diagnosis and awareness.
Studies also show that autism is four to five times more common among boys than girls. An estimated 1 out of 42 boys and 1 in 189 girls are diagnosed with autism in the United States. ASD occurs in every racial and ethnic group, and across all socioeconomic levels. The symptoms are present from early childhood and affect daily functioning. Autism Speaks: www.autismspeaks.org