Camp for Kids With Autism Offers Extreme Therapy

"You're doing great -- I'm proud of you, Johnny," Gilstrap said. "Turn your feet upriver. I'm very proud of you -- stand up, Johnny. Did your legs stop working?"

"I have lousy legs," the camper said.

"No, you don't have lousy legs," came Gilstrap's reply.

Autism Camp: A Taste of the Extreme

Gilstrap said he wants the campers to struggle, but only so much. If the campers get too scared or excited, he said, they can't move forward.

"With that heightened apprehension, if we make it over that hump and on to the other side," he said, "then we get what we're looking for."

They make it as fun as they can. At the end of the treetop rope course is a wonderful zip-line glide back down to Earth.

Gilstrap has also built a special device to help the campers go waterskiing. He described how he learned to work with kids with autism.

"I just studied it and watched how they did things," he said, "and I picked up on a way of interacting with them on whatever they were focused on. It's just a way of touch. Touch can be a very calming thing. Like, again for Josh, I can just reach over and touch him and he'll go [exhales slowly]. Just with the touch. I don't say a single word to him."

Each child is assigned his or her own counselor for the full week. It's what makes it possible in the first place for a kid to step on that wire or hang onto that wall, or just to get through the bus rides between events.

But the real signal that the camp works: Most of the campers come back, year after year -- for another taste of the extreme.

Visit the Extreme Sports Camp Web site HERE

For a family resource guide to camps for kids with autism, visit the Autism Speaks Web site HERE.

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