A precocious boy named Matthew, about 7 years old, leaps to catch a paper airplane I’ve thrown his way. And then he throws, and I hop to catch it. And back and forth we go. I got to help Matthew fold his favorite plane among the lot – ideally constructed for swift, dynamic flight. And fly it did, almost every time in a graceful arc. Soon enough, Matthew starts aiming for the trash can beside me and gets better and better at hitting the target. This is one of the memorable opportunities I had to form a bond with the awesome kids at summer camp.
On July 5th-15th, LSG & Associates collaborated with Explora Science Center to host “Things That Move,” a summer camp event designed for children on the autism spectrum and their siblings. Specifically, the kids engaged in several activities that focus on simple STEM concepts like friction, magnetism, and circuitry. I got to observe and participate in the event from Wednesday the 13th to Friday the 15th, and the theme for the final day was “movement,” bringing the namesake of the event full circle. That’s how the paper airplane task came about and how Matthew and I spent over an hour testing one of the planes.
As you might know, there is a great deal of variance on the autism spectrum; each individual case is different. Our brains tend to hyperfocus on items and interests that might not relate to the task at hand. In that light, there were often different levels of engagement from each child at the camp. The LSG staff had to be very aware of how involved the kids were in the activities, and I noticed a lot of solid preparation where that was concerned. If one child left their basic circuit half-finished, for example, and then ran around for a bit, the LSG staff had a few methods ready to try and direct attention back to the task. If that didn’t work, they were able to decide on a productive approach to allow that kid their playtime. Maybe they could experiment with the building blocks for a while?
But, of course, the LSG team already had a good amount of “playtime” planned for the kids, and it went off wonderfully. After all, an activity does not have to be structured for someone to have a fruitful learning experience. The tasks lined up at “Things That Move” contributed to a balanced sensory diet for these children. I remember especially when they got to play around with the water machines; most of the kids ended up completely soaked! (It reminded me how I had not been to Explora many times, and wow – I had no idea how many areas and contraptions there were to check out!) At somewhere like the “Water” area, the kids were able to further understand the concept of movement. With the flowing and springing water all around them, they could redirect streams, create dams, make objects bob and swim, and a lot more. The entire experience was very dynamic indeed.
Explora is one of LSG’s partner organizations, and they have collaborated several times in the past. I have just begun my time as an autism spectrum representative for LSG and the UNTAPPED initiative over the past month, and I believe this Explora event was an ideal introduction to the services we provide and the relationships we form. There were six kids at the camp, and they were all a delight to meet and interact with. Throughout the week, the kids had to remember certain points of basic manners, like “Share with your peers” and “Keep your hands to yourself.” The children met these expectations enough times to earn extra privileges. And, of course, it was amazing to meet more of the team from the LSG/Explora partnership.
Altogether, our summer camp was a solid success, and you can look for other seasonal events very much like it in the near future. “Things That Move” is an ideal example of how learning activities can not only accommodate neurodivergence, but celebrate it. I have seen, in my experiences in education and the workplace, various contexts where this exact scenario takes place. The camp provided a lens through which we see how children on the spectrum can accomplish a great deal more in the future – and how certain institutions and businesses will view them not in a light of weakness, but of diverse ability.
Until the next story,
Aaron Kelly Anderson,
“A PhD on the Spectrum”