AUSTIN, Minn - More thank likely you know someone who is personally affected by Autism. About 1 in 59 children are identified as being autistic and boys are 4 times more likely to be affected than girls, that's according to the Centers for Disease Control. In 2000, the number of children diagnosed was only 1 in 150, that number has now tripled.
The City of Austin is one of a handful of communities nationally-known for being Autism friendly. The Historic Hormel Home in Austin offers Autistic-friendly summer day camps. While it encourages students in 1st-12th grade to explore and connect with their peers, it also educates the entire community. They try to train the community, including businesses, on how to be welcoming to families who have a child with Autism.
For five weeks out of the summer Sara Conroy is just another "kid" at summer camp. Conroy, a junior at Austin Public Schools, is on the spectrum, diagnosed with Autism.
"I like making new friends... I feel like other people don't judge me for who I am," explained Conroy.
She is one of a handful of 6th-12th graders taking part in the All Access Community Explorations Camp in Austin. The program, put on by the Historic Hormel Home, and staffed with trained professional aims at giving the young adults transitional skills.
"(Some of what they learn while at camp) Job skills, and money skills and leisure skills, cooking skills," said Erin Dilley-Jones, an Autism Specialist who leads the day camps. "A lot of the kids on the spectrum can do the stuff independently as long as we teach them the skills."
The teens go on group outings twice a week to local establishments. The day KIMT visited they were to Family Video and Taco Johns.
"They order for themselves go up and pay for themselves and that is something that not a lot of places are doing. We aren't using play money - we're out in the community using real life items," said Dilley-Jones.
The outings and Autism programming are all part of a larger initiative known as 'Autism Friendly Austin'. Dilley-Jones told KIMT it's a way to build awareness that these kids are in the community and Autism doesn't end when they turn 10, or become adults. It's estimated that 50,000 teens with Autism become adults and lose school-based Autism services each year, according to Autism Speaks.
Camp offers the kids comfort and adventure in a world that doesn't always understand their disability. The Historic Hormel Home offers a variety of programming, to also serve 1st-5th graders. There is financial assistance available for those families in need. During the school year they host "Respite Nights" offering families a *child free night out.
Mason City is also known as an Autism friendly community. 'Our Loving Children' offers a safe place for kids to grow and explore.