Summer Camp for Children with Autism Marches on During Pandemic
Source: CenCal Health
At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, many Central Coast families abruptly found themselves in the stressful situation of having school-age children and working parents isolating at home – a total disruption of their routines, including education and employment.
“Add a child diagnosed with autism to the mix, and the frustration is compounded for both the child and the family,” said Camp Mariposas Coordinator Kristen Landeros, M.A.
Camp Mariposas is a summer day camp that provides speech and language with occupational therapies to children, primarily between the ages of three and 10 years, who have been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder or other conditions that would benefit from early and continuous intervention. A team of professional speech and language pathologists, movement and motor skill therapists and behavioral specialists work closely with children to foster communication, as well as physical and social development.
In March of last year, camp staff quickly determined that they would need to pivot and “go virtual” with their Summer 2020 program. “The first priority was to communicate with the parents,” explained Landeros. Camp staff needed to learn if the family had computer access and an internet connection. If the family’s only computer device was a mobile phone – usually in the possession of the working parent – then staff had to figure out when that phone would be available for the child.
Another challenge was recreating the day camp experience, offering the familiarity and consistency that are so important to these children. Staff members put together age-appropriate “camp boxes” that were delivered to campers’ homes. The boxes included camp t-shirts – which campers and staff always wore when they were in-session – plus craft materials and therapy tools.
A welcome video was produced in English and Spanish that helped orient children and parents to the virtual camp. Families were asked to create a space at home, preferably a quiet corner, where the camper could participate online with their therapist. In addition, parents received daily emails with links to supplementary education and therapy videos for their child, and were required to attend weekly group training. Camp Mariposas also facilitated online parent support groups.
“The coaching work that we did with parents in 2020 was some of the most rewarding of our achievements during the pandemic,” said Landeros. “Parents were able to talk to other parents about what they were going through, offering suggestions and encouragement. This kind of parental networking didn’t necessarily happen before the pandemic.”
Since 2017, CenCal Health, the local Medi-Cal health plan in both Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties, has solely funded Camp Mariposas. Mariposas Project, MP Health is a contracted provider of speech, occupational, and physical therapy services. These services are Medi-Cal covered benefits offered to children through the school system, Tri-Counties Regional Center (as authorized by California Children’s Services), or through CenCal Health’s medical benefit.
“The prospect of a lapse in learning and treatment during the summer months for these children with occupational and speech therapy needs is alarming,” said CenCal Health CEO Bob Freeman. “For these children, who are our members, to overcome their conditions and thrive in the future – that’s important to us. Providing funding for Camp Mariposa capsulizes the mission of CenCal Health.” Eligible children attend the summer program at no cost.
Camp Mariposas Summer 2021 began June 14, with a hybrid program of both online and in-person sessions at the camp’s two locations in Santa Barbara and Atascadero. There has been an increase in enrollment. “The word is out about the developmental therapies offered by our professional pediatric specialists,” said Silvia Wasjutin, founder of Mariposas Project, MP Health. “When public schools and services for special needs children were discontinued last year, Camp Mariposas was still there for our community.”
Additional information is available mphealthsb.com or by calling (805) 253-2547.