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San Diego: Autism summer camp "in high demand with a long waitlist"

Aug 6, 2022, San Diego Union Tribune: ‘They just get to be themselves’: Autistic kids get their own summer camp experience at Camp I CAN

Summer camp is an opportunity for children to explore and grow, make new friends and learn new skills. But that can be tougher for kids on the autism spectrum.

For more than 20 years, the YMCA has partnered with the Autism Society of San Diego to create one of the only specialized summer programs in the county, so every kid can have the chance at a classic camp experience.

Camp I CAN is a weeklong camp for autistic kids ages 6 to 17, with activities and hands-on programming targeted to their ability levels. It runs six weeks of the summer — two at the Magdalena Ecke Family YMCA in Encinitas and four at the Toby Wells YMCA in Kearny Mesa — alongside other Y camps….

The Autism Society and YMCA offer financial aid to make the camp more affordable for families. But the need for additional staff means there’s also limited space.

Each year, the camp is in high demand with a long waitlist. That has meant kids can attend for only one week each summer, while funding constraints have limited each week’s camp to 10 kids this year.


When Wil Camerino’s now 22-year-old son Julian aged out of Camp I CAN, he joined Teens in Motion, a YMCA program designed for older kids and young adults up to age 22 with a wider range of developmental disabilities funded through the nonprofit San Diego Regional Center.

The year-round program runs after school during the school year and as full-day camps during school breaks, focusing on socialization, independence and life skills. “It’s a very diverse group,” said Tess Williams, who is also the Y’s program director for Teens in Motion, “but that’s what makes it more unique and special and welcoming to everyone.”…

Camerino says he doesn’t know of any other local camps geared specifically toward kids with developmental disabilities — and Jason Williams agrees.

“These programs have really been a blessing,” Camerino said. And now that Julian is aging out, his father says losing that support will be difficult. “There’s definitely a need for more opportunities like this.”

Tess Williams, a YMCA program director, and camper Elliot Wilson compare slime they made at the Toby Wells YMCA’s Camp I CAN summer camp on Thursday, July 21, 2022.

(Pat Hartley / The San Diego Union-Tribune)


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