Editor’s Note: With KAMPN – Kids with Autism Making Progress in Nature – back in the news because founder Dr. Jim Taylor is cycling from the mountains to the coast to raise money for the program.
By Jesse Wood (reprinted from The High Country Magazine, April/May 2014)
Wonderful things happen when children – with or without autism – are immersed in the great outdoors, and of the many benefits that nature provides to the overall development of kids, KAMPN founder Dr. Jim Taylor noticed that one benefit is the sense of awe and wonder that nature elicits in children – particularly those with autism that the camp serves. Whether it is the barefoot feel of a woodchip-covered trail weaving through the 25-acre camp in Deep Gap and the sensation of rubbing pinecones and tree bark in the forest or splashing through cool creeks in the summer months, KAMPN’s Camp Cogger provides the sensory experience that kids with autism relish. It also provides, for a change, a setting for the families to feel comfortable and relaxed.
Taylor’s inspiration for KAMPN, which stands for “Kids with Autism Making Progress in Nature,” derived from observing his 10th grandson named Charlie, who was diagnosed several years ago on the autism spectrum when he was nearly three years old. When the younger Charlie would visit his grandparents Jim and Sue in the mountains, Taylor noticed a particular joy and happiness emanating from Charlie when he was exploring outside. “Charlie helped give me a vision of how I could provide others an opportunity to enjoy the benefits of nature,” Taylor said. “Almost everything I have done, I have asked God for a direction to take in my life. This time, Charlie initiated this direction as I observed his reactions and behaviors in this natural setting.”
While KAMPN incorporated and obtained nonprofit status on May 1, 2011, the camp didn’t open until 2013. Since the inception of the KAMPN organization, Taylor struggled to raise enough funds to open the camp, so it would be free of cost to the families. The subsidy was a priority because raising a child with autism is expensive and Taylor wanted families to be able to relax and enjoy their stay without worrying about financing the trip. Along with individual
donors, KAMPN has also received financial support from local business such as Sunrise Grill, Bojangles, Mast General Store, Hawksnest Resort and Footsloggers, all of which have co-sponsored the camp’s major fundraisers – KAMPN Konopoly, ZIPPIN for KAMPN and the annual fish fry in Boone. While more funding, of course, would be helpful to further the cause, operation costs remain low. For example, instead of fancy cabins for the campers, good ol’ fashioned tents exist and help authenticate the experience
KAMPN’s Camp Cogger is a nature-based overnight camping program that is very similar to any other camp experience. It has the welcoming ceremonies, evening cookouts, marshmallow roasts, camp songs and more. It provides hiking, music, art and other activities for children to pursue; it provides a place for parents of the children with autism to interact and discuss the daily rewards and challenges of raising a child with autism; and it provides university students from App State and beyond studying in the area of special education an excellent opportunity to receive hands-on experience in their field of study. Both educators, parents and volunteers, alike, have praised this program, which is unique to the region and perhaps beyond. See a few testimonials below:
Dr. Charles Duke, former dean of the Reich College of Education at Appalachian State University, wrote a statement of support for KAMPN, a portion of which read: “The uniqueness of your program – its focus on the family unit, not just the individual child – is one which we would like to see replicated many times over.”
And one parent who stayed at the camp last year wrote, “We wanted to say thank you SO MUCH for providing the amazing family experience we enjoyed. We felt welcomed… well normal. It was so refreshing to be surrounded by such positive energy with folks who embraced us and genuinely cared about our experience. We don’t get too many opportunities to enjoy places as a family without the worry about how are son with autism will react and how people will respond. Our daughter said it was the best camping trip she ever had! And I’m sure if JD, our son with autism, could find words, he would say the same. Jim and Sue and the volunteers really made us feel special and encouraged.”
One volunteer exclaimed: “Thanks so much for all that you are doing and planning on doing. Y’all are truly inspiring and encouraging to all of us. Keep up the awesome work and thank you again for the opportunity.”
Taylor’s introduction to autism wasn’t through his grandson Charlie. No, that occurred much earlier. Taylor began his career in special education in the ‘60s and has since served in various related positions: teacher, principal, consultant, advocate in the court system and professor at various universities. In addition he was director of a university preschool program, administrator of a large multi-faceted program for individuals with disabilities and a developer of domestic and international preschool programs. Just prior to moving to Deep Gap, Taylor served as professor and director of a preschool program for children with special needs at East Carolina University.
He first noticed how kids with autism reacted positively in nature during a two-year sabbatical leave from East Carolina in the early ‘90s, when he returned to the classroom to teach preschool children with developmental disabilities, including two with autism, on an island in the Pacific. The classroom was practically on the beach, and it was there that he noticed the two students with autism enjoying moving their toes in the sand and picking up seashells. In an essay titled, “Why Can Nature Be So Important in the Life of a Child with Autism?” Taylor wrote about the experience: “The small building where my preschool was located was encased in a natural environment, even having the ocean a stone’s throw away. It was there I began to observe what a difference being outside of the four walls of the classroom in nature made to the development of the child with special needs.”
Several years later, in the fall of 1999, Taylor and his wife, Sue, relocated to Deep Gap after their home was destroyed by the fifth hurricane in four years. In the 80s, the Taylor’s had purchased land in the High Country with plans to build their retirement home, and in the summers of 1997-98 they actually lived in a tent on the property while building their cabin, hiring local people to help in the process. Little did Taylor know how this tent living would lead to sharing an enriched experience in the great outdoors with his grandson – and other families immediately affected by autism – nearly 15 years later.
For further information in participating as a family in one of the sessions offered, contact Dr. Jim Taylor at 828-264-0054, KAMPN4autism@gmail.com or www.KAMPN4autism.appstate.edu. Reservations are required and there are NO FEES for participating families.
For those interested in volunteering prior and/or during camp, contact Dr. Taylor. Donations can be sent to 1255 Wildcat Ridge Rd., Deep Gap, NC 28618.
ADVANTAGES OF BEING OUTSIDE IN NATURE
• Nature encourages the expansion of important skills by providing a place to support the development of the social and communication skills that children with autism are often weak. Since movement provides a wonderful way of stimulating the verbal centers of the brain, providing them a relaxed environment to do this can be very helpful in enhancing these skills.
• Nature offers restorative experiences that can feed the soul. Outside in nature provides solace and comfort while being in a quiet space restores calm and thoughtful reflection.
• Nature utilizes all five of the senses. A good sensory diet is important for children on the autism spectrum and being immersed in
nature can provide a calming and stimulating experience based on the child’s needs.
• Nature is broadcast in a 3-D spectrum. You can’t get any better than being in the three-dimensional world of nature with the
abundance of rich experiences it has to offer children.
WHY CAN NATURE BE SO IMPORTANT
IN THE LIFE OF A CHILD WITH AUTISM?
Over the past 45 years of my professional career working with children with developmental disabilities, I have had many opportunities to observe, teach and be with this special population in a variety of learning environments. The learning environment which I have been so impressed is nature and the benefits it has for children on the autism spectrum.
Taking a sabbatical leave from East Carolina University for two years in the nineties, I returned to the classroom to teach preschool children with developmental disabilities including those with autism on an island in the Pacific. The small building where my preschool was located was encased in a natural environment, even having the ocean a stone’s throw away. It was there I began to observe what a difference being outside of the four walls of the classroom in nature made to the development of the child with special needs.
Almost 20 years later, I have again had the opportunity of observing children with autism interacting with nature. For the last two years I have volunteered at Camp Crinkleroot, a day camp program for children on the autism spectrum conducted by Appalachian State University. Along with this over the past four years, my wife and I have hosted children on autism spectrum and their families here at our cabin on 25 acres in the Blue Ridge Mountains near Boone, NC. I am now even more firmly convinced of the value nature has in the development of the child on the autism spectrum.
With the latest statistics being released in March of 2012, the Center for Disease Control, 1 in 88 children in the United States are being diagnosed with autism — nearly doubling of the prevalence since the CDC began tracking these numbers — autism can be now officially be declared an epidemic in the United States. When I began my career in Special Education in the sixties it was 1 in 2000!! Being a program developer, not a biological scientist, I find there is a crucial need to develop programs for this population.
Having the conviction of the values and benefits that the nature environment provides for children on the autism spectrum, KAMPN (Kids with Autism Making Progress in Nature) was incorporated on May 1, 2011, receiving its nonprofit 501(c)(3) status on that same date. KAMPN will be a family affair with siblings and parents being involved with the experience. It is not only for the child with autism. Parents and siblings need to be a part of it in order to see just how valuable and fun being together, sharing and trying something new can be. It is projected to begin operation in July of 2013.
There have been innumerable articles written and much research conducted over the past several years emphasizing the benefits for the body, mind and spirit that the outdoor natural environment has for all children. More recently focus is developing on what this rich natural environmental setting can mean to a child on the autism spectrum. On the following page I have referred to just a few of these studies.
FUNDRAISING FOR KAMPN