Texas Tech University

Experts: Summer Camps Help Prepare People with Autism for Success

Heidi Toth

July 25, 2016


The Burkhart Center hosts summer camps for elementary, middle and high school students with autism spectrum disorder.

Summer camp is a staple for American children, but one group is often left out – children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). People with ASD struggle with unfamiliar situations and building relationships, so traditional summer camp is frequently too difficult.

Country musician Zac Brown has announced the coming Camp Southern Ground, a summer camp for all children with special emphasis on children with neurobehavioral disorders, social or emotional challenges and children from military families. It is not the first camp of its kind, but it highlights the need to offer “typical” experiences for neuroatypical children, which help these children develop the life skills needed to be successful in school and beyond.

The co-directors of the Burkhart Center for Autism Education & Research at Texas Tech University are available to discuss the importance of providing “typical” childhood experiences for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The Burkhart Center hosts summer camps for elementary, middle and high school students with ASD.

Janice Magness, co-director, Burkhart Center, (806) 438-9143 or janice.magness@ttu.edu

Janice Magness
  • Through the years of hosting summer camps she has helped students overcome their fears and enjoy the experience, while talking with a few who struggled with certain aspects of the camp.
  • “Many students with ASD have one area of interest they tend to focus on, and it makes it difficult for them to converse or have things in common with others if they don't share their area of interest. Camp works well to expose kids on the spectrum with all types of activities so they are able to see what other things are available to them or that they haven't been exposed to.”
  • “Hopefully it broadens their horizons, and the student with ASD can become less self-focused and learn to participate in and share other interests.”
  • “Many students with ASD don't have an opportunity to attend regular camps. So camp can be a special time for them. It would be a sad day when students on the spectrum couldn't participate and have the same opportunities as other kids. Yes, some accommodations must be made to sponsor these camps, but the small changes we make are well worth the effort.”

Wesley Dotson, co-director, Burkhart Center, (806) 834-0783 or wesley.dotson@ttu.edu

Wes Dotson
  • Data shows once people with ASD graduate from high school, 75 to 80 percent of their daily social interaction is with family and paid caregivers.
  • Camps provide students opportunities to learn and practice the social skills that will help them later in life as they go to college, apply for jobs and begin relationships.
  • “Adult success is tied to the ability to develop and maintain relationships, and it's an area of great deficit for folks on the spectrum. It's one of the hardest things for them to do, and it's one of the most important areas to target.”
  • “Forming relationships does not occur naturally. Exposure is not enough. There's very compelling data showing if you take kids with autism and put them in a class with normally developing peers for six months, they don't develop relationships without help and support.”
  • “The most common reason people with autism drop out of college is they don't feel connected to their institution and they fail to develop social relationships.”
  • “Most intervention is focused on young kids who are in school. But they're in school for 18 years and they're going to live another 50 years after that. And those 50 years, the outcomes are driven more by social skills than nearly anything else.”