Extreme Sports Camp helps growing number of autistic adults
An estimated 1 in 68 children in the United States was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder in 2010, a 30 percent rise from previous estimates for 2008, according to a report by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention released last week.
Released just in time for Autism Awareness Day on April 2, the numbers shouldn’t be ignored, said Deb Gravelle, executive director of Extreme Sports Camp, a Roaring Fork Valley nonprofit that provides recreational opportunities for people with the disorder, including skiing on Snowmass. The CDC’s report tracked the disorder’s prevalence among 8-year-old children. That means 10 years from now, there will be many autistic adults entering society, Gravelle said.
“I think what it means, what it should mean, is that our communities need to become more aware of autism and how they can work with people with autism,” Gravelle said. “Currently schools will take a person who has autism, and they get to stay in school until they’re 21. Then what happens?”
Extreme Sports Camp has begun addressing that issue by creating a position that focuses on helping autistic adults apply for jobs and develop skills.
“We’re working with several clients right now — some who are very high-functioning, some who are nonverbal,” Gravelle said. “Everyone requires a little bit of a different need. But we start with your basic putting together a resume, how do you interview, what kind of jobs are going to be the best fit, and we assist people in that way.”
Gravelle wants to start meeting with more Rotary clubs and other employers to get them thinking about how an autistic worker could fit in their business and not only work there but “be a valuable asset,” she said. Extreme Sports Camp also offers an enrichment program to introduce adults to social activities and life skills, such as doing laundry and buying groceries.
“We look at it as somewhat of a holistic, community-based approach, where we want these adults to be experiencing things that an adult their age would experience,” Gravelle said. “Keeping in mind that not everything is going to work great for them — like a really loud rock concert may not be the right choice, but music in the park is fantastic. Just basically looking at what does an adult life encompass.”
Extreme Sports Camp also is planning an awareness campaign in Roaring Fork Valley schools in the fall. Representatives will talk to students about befriending people with autism, and then the students will be asked to ride in a bicycling rally as a fundraiser for the organization.
Making fundraisers an activity allows Extreme Sports Camp to involve some of its participants.
“We really feel strongly that sports give people independence and confidence, and that’s one of the things that people with autism really need,” Gravelle said.
On April 2, in honor of Autism Awareness Day, 5 percent of the net proceeds at Whole Foods in Basalt will be donated to Extreme Sports Camp to help offset the cost of scholarships for participants.
Running the programs costs more than Extreme Sports Camp charges its participants, primarily because the organization hires enough staff members to pair each camper with an individual counselor, Gravelle said. The organization’s biggest need is for scholarships to help more people afford to participate.
“That’s where we need the money the most,” Gravelle said.
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