Adventure designed for autistic kids

Delaney Anderson, 13, has a hard time participating in activities with other children his age. Due to a chromosomal disorder, he is the size of a 6-year-old and has autism with mental disabilities.

But this summer, he was able to go to Camp Royall - a camp that is specifically designed for autistic campers. The camp boasts a one-to-one or two-to-one counselor to camper ratio.

This year, the Summer Camp Fund provided two full scholarships, sending deserving kids to summer camp. One of those children was Delaney.

The Summer Camp Fund is an effort by the nonprofit POST (Partners in Out-of-School-Time) and The Charlotte Observer.

Readers are asked to make donations so young people can attend camps in a safe, supervised atmosphere. The fund will provide 173 scholarships to 13 camps this year. Sixty-eight percent of donations will go to camps in Mecklenburg County, and 32 percent to camps in other parts of the state.

Situated on 132 acres near Pittsboro, Camp Royall offers everything a normal summer camp has. The camp is down a country road with a lake, swimming pool, gym, crafts room and hiking trails, according to Kay Walker, Camp Royall's director of development.

"They take hay rides, make campfires - you really feel like you're at camp," Walker said.

Realizing that many parents have never been separated from their autistic child, counselors call the parents every night with updates if desired. However, the goal of the camp is to encourage campers to take part in activities and experiences they may never have experienced before.

"Camp was really meaningful for Delaney because it was a chance to make friends in a safe environment with people who value him for who he is," said the camp director, Sara Gage.

According to Gage, The Autism Society of North Carolina works to raise scholarship money since most families need at least some assistance. "We don't want money to get in the way because we know how important this camp is," Gage said.

Delaney lives in Pence Place, a group home in Rockingham funded by Medicare for children with mental and developmental disabilities. The nine-bed facility provides day-to-day care that parents may not be able to afford for high-needs children. Clare Cagle, one of Delaney's caregivers, said Delaney was so excited when he returned from camp.

"He hung the necklace he made on everyone's neck and gave it to everyone, then took it back and gave it to the next person," Cagle said. "He was just telling everybody about what he had done at camp."

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