In 2014, Camp ROCKS was a new experience for 11-year-old Nathan who was nervous about going to an overnight camp for the first time. Camp ROCKS is offered each summer by Easterseals Crossroads for children and adolescents who have autism. It takes place at Bradford Woods where campers can enjoy activities in a beautiful outdoor setting packed with options from swimming to boating to rock climbing and more. “I felt nervous about going away to an overnight camp, but once I heard that Camp ROCKS was a camp specifically for adolescents and children on the autism spectrum, I felt more confident in my social skills,” said Nathan.
Nathan’s family was very familiar with services at Easterseals Crossroads. Initially, Nathan was connected through First Steps for an augmentative communication device and was involved with various programs since he was 2 years old. Nathan’s grandmother Linda has been involved with Easterseals Crossroads Guild volunteer group and was a founder of the grandparents’ support group for those with grandchildren with autism.
“At Camp Rocks, my favorite activities were swimming, horseback riding, canoeing, riding the zipline and performing in the talent show. I learned that you should always respect the capabilities of your friends and peers, and that you shouldn’t be shy or anxious about having new experiences,” said Nathan. Many of the life skills that Nathan learned at Camp ROCKS helped him in school activities such as forming new friendships, communicating, trying new things and staying focused on academics. Nathan graduated from Lawrence North High School this year with a strong academic and extracurricular performance. Not only was Nathan a National Honor Society member, he also played tennis and was manager for both the girls’ basketball team and the baseball team.
“Camp ROCKS provides campers with a week of fun, outdoor activities. More importantly, Camp ROCKS provides individuals with opportunities to form connections with peers, practice life skills and develop independence. It is unlike any other experience available to adolescents with ASD in Indiana,” said Tracy Gale, PsyD, and director of autism services at Easterseals Crossroads. Easterseals Crossroads has always responded to community needs with program options that fill a void or gap for those with disabilities and hopes to offer Camp ROCKS again in 2022.
“Camp ROCKS was the absolute best. Nathan loved the entire experience and it helped raise his self-awareness. After his first year at camp, Nathan mentioned, ‘Did you know that I have autism?’ This was huge because he had never verbalized that to us. We were able to discuss autism on his own terms,” said Nathan’s dad Troy.
This fall, Nathan is off to college at University of Indianapolis. He feels as well prepared for the new experiences ahead of him. “The advice that I would give other young people with autism is to always be prepared and ready for a challenge every day and work hard in order to be successful and achieve your goals. I would also tell them to not procrastinate and not wait until the last minute to get assignments done. I’ve also learned that the more involved you are outside of academics, the more successful you’ll be not only in the classroom, but in the community as well,” said Nathan.
Camp ROCKS has been a camp favorite for more than 80 children and adolescents each season throughout the years.