Rob W. Anderson, Tahlequah Daily Press, Okla.
Camp Grey Squirrel is a place where a person living with autism spectrum disorder can enjoy life on his or her own terms.Camp Grey Squirrel is Oklahoma's first camp for kids with autism spectrum disorders, and is "the most amazing place" that 17-year-old camper Mika Conn has ever experienced. "I've been to another camp called Wonderland Camp, and it's not as amazing as this camp," she said. "I'm home-schooled, because I am ADHD and no one could take me. I am the only child to my family, and so I could take a lot of these kids and make them my sisters and brothers. These [people] are like family to me, like [Camp Grey Squirrel founders] Daphne and Fred [Hamon]. I am very glad my Mom is taking time for me to find this camp for me." The Hamons began Camp Grey Squirrel in 2009 at the United Methodist Boys' Ranch in Gore, and the following year were able to expand the program when partnering with the United Methodist Circle of Care in Tahlequah. It is a 501(c)3 organization with the mission of providing affordable therapy for those living with the debilitating disorder. "We do day camps and weekend camps at the children's home in Tahlequah, and our resident camp is at the boys' ranch in Gore," said Daphne Hamon. "In April, we do mom and me -- Dads can come, too, but it's really for moms. Then in June, July and August, we do our resident camps and day camps. We went from two kids showing up at one session to all of this. We didn't have many come [Saturday] because of all the rain. It knocked us out of the horses, but at least it didn't knock us out of fishing." Parents and kids who attended the weekend Fall Family Camp at the Tahlequah site were also able to enjoy an indoor setting of archery, Jupiter jumps, face painting, pumpkin painting and many other activities and games. Becky Delaware and her 10-year-old son, Adam, shared a two-hour drive from Stroud to be able to attend the Fall day camp. "He went to the spring camp, and then went to the summer resident camp. He just loves it. I told him that we were coming today, and he got so excited," she said. "He was ready to go. He gets to be himself, and he doesn't have to worry about anything. We don't have to worry about people looking at us weird. It's all theirs. I think he owns it, and he doesn't have to share it. And it's just fun. Very fun." Not having to deal with the annoyed looks and misinterpretations from people in public settings makes Camp Grey Squirrel welcoming, said Muskogee parent and autism support group facilitator Christi Kellogg. "This is great to have a place that we can come to where our kids feel comfortable, where we feel comfortable and where they're accepted," she said. "Because, so many times, we go out and people stare and think they need to give us parenting advice. Here, everybody understands and nobody tries to tell you 'you need to make them do this or that'. It's been so nice to have this here. "I feel like I can relax a little bit and have fun with my kids. And my kids don't get overwhelmed here. We can't take them to places like Incredible Pizza. It's just too overstimulating, and then we all have a bad time. Here it's just relaxed. We do one thing and then go to another. We're just having a good time not having to worry about kids getting on somebody's nerves." For those interested in becoming a volunteer at the camp or working with a person who lives with Autism or a similar health condition, Delaware stressed he or she must be willing to think only of that person who lives in a world of constant challenge and frustration. To see the complete version of this article, subscribe to the Daily Press e-edition by following the link below. (c)2012 the Tahlequah Daily Press (Tahlequah, Okla.) Visit the Tahlequah Daily Press (Tahlequah, Okla.) at www.tahlequahdailypress.com