Opportunity knocks: Young adults with autism learn job skills at Ontario camp
Published Tuesday, August 25, 2015 10:07PM EDT
A Canadian camp that helps young adults with autism disorders develop job skills and find their place in the working world is seeing success, only two years after its inception.
Camp Thrive, located in Shelburne, Ont. is designed to help young adults with autism disorders find the skills they enjoy and can use to find paying jobs.
The camp, operated by Integrated Services for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders (ISAND), is trying to fill a much-needed gap. Camp Thrive co-director Howard Dalal says there are few resources for those with autism disorders.
“We don’t think about planning for these kids’ futures down the road,” Dalal told CTV News. “And instead of having them contribute to society like they can, we end up just pushing them to the side.”
Camp Thrive is trying to change that. Only in its second year, its organizers are surprised by how the young participants are responding.
The camp started out as an experiment of sorts, looking at what would happen if therapists brought a group of young people with autism to a camp for three weeks.
There, they learn how to farm, cook and raise chickens.
The camp aims to help people like Michael Zuccaro, a once-violent 22-year-old who needed be restrained. That was until counsellors discovered last summer that Zuccaro liked to work with wood.
Now, Zuccaro operates his own woodcrafting business and he has earned more than $30,000 in the past year.
Another camper, Sam, dreams of becoming a Starbucks barista. But he said most people with his condition aren’t given a chance to prove themselves.
“People with autism are very slow in their development but on the inside they’re no different than you and me,” Sam said.
Starbucks officials heard about Camp Thrive and offered Sam and another camper part-time jobs.
Starbucks spokesperson Louisa Girotta said the opportunity is not charity.
“It’s meaningful employment,” Girotta said. “You get paid, you have a job description and it’s perfect for that skill, that capability.”
The camp experiment seems to be working.
“My hope is by the end of October we’ll have jobs for at least eight out of our 12 kids up at camp,” Dalal said.
Researchers now plan to track the young participants to see what happens once camp is over, and whether Camp Thrive is a model for others to follow.
With a report by CTV Medical Specialist Avis Favaro and producer Elizabeth St. Philip