Outdoor Adventure Camp for Children on the Autism Spectrum
At the Eastman Nature Center in Dayton, it’s the job of the naturalists to introduce kids to the wonders of the great outdoors. They have to be flexible and adapt to the changing attitude of Mother Nature.
“It’s a bit of a challenge. Usually the mosquitoes are a bigger detriment, but they don’t seem to be bothering everyone all that much today,” said Cristina Palmisano, an interpretive naturalist.
Palmisano is teaching a group of eager teenagers how to build a shelter out in the woods using nothing but downed branches.
“We’re just trying to build a space that, if we were in a survival situation, we’d want to have a place to protect us from the elements,” Palmisano said.
It’s a valuable skill to have, if they ever happen to find themselves in that situation.
Teaches Outdoor and Social Skills
While these activities expose kids to nature, there’s something bigger at play.
Each of these camp-goers are on the autism spectrum. The various activities this week will teach them much more than outdoor skills.
“In the past, sometimes kids on the autism spectrum would register for a regular camp and they might have a hard time and struggle with interacting with other kids in the camp and some of the sensory issues,” said Kurt Adolphson, a social skills instructor with the Autism Society of Minnesota.
But when they’re around other kids on the autism spectrum, Adolphson says it’s a more comfortable environment.
It’s also a place where they can develop their social skills.
“A lot of friendships are made at these camps. They are exchanging numbers by the end of the week,” Adolphson said.
It also helps that adults who are supportive, understanding and encouraging surround the kids during this camp.
“I’ve found in my years of doing this camp that nature is a calming environment for people on the autism spectrum,” Palmisano said. “And I’ve got very good feedback about the people who participate in this camp.”
This camp is now in its fifth year of teaching kids about nature and life.
“It’s been a really fun and rewarding experience for me,” Palmisano added.
To learn more about Three Rivers Park District camps, click here.