Autism event makes for happy campers

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By April Wright, Reporter

At an annual week-long autism camp hosted by faculty and students of the Radford University Autism Clinic at Southwest Virginia Training Center, 10 children ages 4-14 experienced camp life, met with friends and participated in activities with children sharing the common bond of a diagnosis of autism.

The neurological disorder impacts communication and social interaction skills.

The camp focused on improving socialization through picnics, outdoor sports, story-based days, venturing through nature and making friends to encourage children to initiate conversations, work in a team and learn social skills. Children also spent three hours a day with speech therapists.

“This is about them learning to practice skills to develop relationships with others,” said Dr. Diane Millar, a speech pathology teacher at Radford University who heads the autism camp.

“This camp is great,” said Katy Hickam-Davis of Galax, whose 4-year-old son, Aidan, was diagnosed more than a year ago. “He gets to be around other kids that are like him that understand him a little better, and it’s free.”

This is the third year for the Radford University autism camp. Millar hopes to hold a two-week camp next year where teachers and children can get to know each other better, and so Millar will have a better understanding of what to personally work on with each child.

In addition to hosting a camp specifically for children with autism, the Radford University speech and language department provides diagnostics and therapy to people on the autism spectrum.

It is paired with the psychology department and researches new alternatives and intervention methods to better educate speech pathologists and people with the disorder, and performs diagnostics.

A poker run fundraiser hosted by Bogey’s Restaurant in Galax on Aug. 24 will help pay for the clinic to make free autism diagnostic assessments for children in Galax, Carroll and Grayson.

Registration will begin at 11 a.m. and the run starts at 1 p.m. in Bogey’s parking lot. The cost is $15 for the main ride and $5 for an additional rider.

Food is included before the run and door prizes and entertainment are planned after the run. Cash prizes will be awarded to those with the best and worst poker hand.

“People are being diagnosed with autism more and more,” said Theresa Frazier, owner of Bogey’s, who hopes to make more parents aware of the disorder. She said now that there is a local autism support group, this fundraiser may open up people’s eyes to have support groups for other issues.

The Autism Society of America estimates that it can cost between $3.5 million and $5 million for the lifetime care of a child with autism. The U.S. faces as much as a $90 billion annual cost to cover expenses of diagnostics, research, insurance, educational spending, therapy sessions and other elements.

Autism affects 1 in 50 children, with some going undiagnosed and others waiting 1-2 years before being diagnosed due to the long waiting list.

Researchers say that autism is caused by the environment and genetics; however, no one has been able to pinpoint the answer.

Usually noticed by birth, it is accurately diagnosed between the ages three and six. But now, children can be screened as early as six months.

Adults and children with autism are affected differently and in varying degrees.

Most, who are mildly affected by autism, exhibit slight delays in communication and struggle with social interaction, in which some, for example, may stutter, hold their head down when spoken to and repeat words and phrases.

There isn’t a cure for the disability, but early intervention has a major impact on reducing the symptoms.

Getting autistic children diagnosed and treated is a key component to treating the effects of autism. The earlier, the better.

Symptoms of Autism

• Insistence on sameness

• Difficulty in expressing needs

• Repeating words or phrases

• Laughing for no reason

• Throwing tantrums

•Difficulty interacting with others

• Little or no eye contact

• Unresponsive to normal teaching methods

• Odd play

• Spinning objects

• Over sensitivity or under sensitivity to pain

• No concept of danger

• Physically over or under active

• Uneven fine motor skills

• Non-responsive to verbal cues

From the Autism Society of America