DENVER — Eight year old Gary is going to camp.
He helps his parents pack his clothes, toys, and gear for his trip to the Roaring Fork Valley.
But this isn’t just any camp. It’s Extreme Sports Camp, and Gary is autistic.
“You see how magical it is to see these guys out there doing amazing things, parents are always like, ‘I never thought my kid could do that,’” said Extreme Sports Camp Director Deb Sullivan Gravelle.
Nine years ago, Extreme Sports Camp was created for children with autism, to help bring social and athletic activities into their daily lives. Since then, it’s grown to serve hundreds of children and adults on the autism spectrum.
They spend their days surfing, splashing, swinging, climbing, and enjoying the Colorado outdoors.
All the while, they’re learning and growing more confident. For Gary’s parents, that’s a major milestone.
“He has no interest in his peers. Once in a while, we’ll get lucky and he’ll attach to a kid,” said Erika Norman-Gravseth, Gary’s mom. She was amazed by Gary’s breakthroughs making friends at camp.
Each camper has a dedicated counselor – even the adults.
Robert Doss is a young man who’s becoming more independent by learning gardening skills, and selling the t-shirts he designs.
“He started a t-shirt company, and he’s really fond of animals and figures, so he decided to draw about ten different figures and put them on shirts,” said counselor Justin Engels.
He and other counselors wear Robert’s shirts every day. “We’re all peers. We’re helping them help us. We’re all helping each other.”
Extreme Sports camp is focused on supporting people with autism, but it’s also about awareness.
“We need to make people more aware of autism, because it’s not something to be afraid of,” said Gravelle.