While boot camp may conjure images of tough workouts, for young adults with autism attending Urban Autism Solutions’ (UAS) “Summer Boot Camp,” exercise is built right into the tailor-made program. Participants will work up a sweat helping out at UAS’ Growing Solutions urban farm, exploring Chicago’s diverse neighborhoods via public transportation, learning non-verbal communication strategies, exploring careers, budgeting and shopping, and having fun during the three-week camp.
Designed for people with autism and related disabilities ages 16 to 20 years old, the camp provides a unique opportunity for participants to get to know Chicago using the city’s ‘L’ and bus system and to work as a group to decide what to do, how to get there and where to eat. The itinerary includes Millennium Park, Wrigley Field, Chinatown, the Riverwalk and UAS’ Growing Solutions Farm in the IL Medical District.
“Boot Camp focuses on community immersion, and one of the ways we do that is by navigating the city on public transportation,” said Loren Ketelsen, camp director and a social worker at North Grand High School, a Chicago Public School on the West Side. “By supporting participants as they work together to figure out how to get where we’re going, we give them a chance to practice their executive decision-making and social skills in a fun way.”
For people with autism and related disabilities, using public transit can be especially overwhelming. “You’re entering into an unpredictable environment that can be noisy and filled with strangers, and for people with autism it can be sensory overload,” said Heather Tarczan, executive director of Urban Autism Solutions. “There are also a lot of steps involved – using your Ventra card, figuring out which line to take and how long it will get from one point to another. We help our participants break those steps down and let them know what to expect in advance, and with repetition and exposure they begin to feel more comfortable.”
One day of the three-day per week camp will be spent at Urban Autism Solutions’ Growing Solutions Farm – a 1.2-acre produce farm in the Illinois Medical District that grows and sells produce through a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) and at its twice-weekly on-site farm stand.
“The farm provides an opportunity to learn soft skills like following directions, completing tasks and working as a team,” said Tucker Kelly, lead grower at Growing Solutions Farm. “It’s also a great way to get out into the fresh air and get some exercise and we know being around plants can have strong therapeutic benefits including reducing stress and anxiety which run very high in people with autism.”
Participants will learn light construction, how to prepare soil, build and tend a compost pile, cultivate beds and harvest and package and market produce at the on-site farm stand while gaining important workforce development skills.
“At the end of camp, we really want our participants feel more confident and comfortable being out in the community,” said Tarczan.
The camp runs Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from 9:30 am to 2 pm. A second session starts July 20. ABOUT URBAN AUTISM SOLUTIONS: Urban Autism Solutions provides vocational, social, and residential programs that help individuals with autism navigate adulthood. We offer opportunities that help our participants develop social and soft skills, prepare for employment through interview training and job shadows, use public transportation and achieve their personal goals. With our team of experts, we empower our clients to become self-advocates and to live life with confidence. To date, Urban Autism Solutions has served more than 400 young adults with autism and related disorders through their programs.