Linwood Ten-year-old Ben Berlin and 9-year-old Andrew Ellis looked like they were having the time of their lives.
Ben jumped from a diving board into the pool's cool water while Andrew peered through his goggles and turned somersaults beneath the surface.
At poolside, the staff at Camp Determination smiled and yelled cheers of encouragement to the youngsters, all of whom were diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome.
"We get to see the youngsters as real people," said Sue Ann Kline, executive director of the Autism Asperger Resource Center at Kansas University Medical Center in Kansas City, Kan. "Sometimes we focus on their disabilities instead of their strengths, and we need to highlight the things they do well."
Camp Determination, at Tall Oaks Conference Center, east of Linwood, serves children ages 8 to 18 with autism and Asperger's syndrome. This year, 51 campers came from nine states.
The camp, which is hosted by the resource center, provides therapeutic horseback riding, art and music therapy, swimming, fishing, canoeing, hayrides, cookouts, social skills groups and other activities.
"I like watching the magician and juggler, the hayrides and eating s'mores," Ben said. "I like Roberta (the cook). She cooks special food."
"I like the swimming," Andrew added. "I like the quiet time and sitting on my bed."
In late July, Ben and Andrew attended the four-day camp for children with Asperger syndrome, a high-functioning form of autism. Asperger syndrome is a neurobiological disorder that has only recently been recognized as a diagnosis by the medical community.
A person with Asperger's often has normal or above-average intelligence, but may create unrealistic expectations of success, insist on a routine, resist environmental change and become preoccupied with a particular subject. They often have flat and emotionless voices, and often have difficulty with the give-and-take of conversation. They may be overly sensitive to loud sounds, lights and odors, and struggle to develop and maintain social relationships.
Kline said the cause of Asperger's is unknown. Some researchers think it is hereditary.
For many of the campers, a stay at Camp Determination is their first time they've been away from home. Kline said the camp is run by volunteers and paid staff, many of whom are special education teachers, speech and language professionals, occupational therapists, university students and school psychologists. Two nurses are on-site.
"We have 110 people on the staff, and we also recruit peers without disabilities to serve as role models for the kids," she said.
Director of the camp is Kelly Tebbenkamp, a special education teacher from Lee's Summit, Mo. The camp has allowed her to understand what life is like for the youngsters and their families outside the classroom.
"I get to step into the shoes of a parent and to know what they go through, day in and day out," she said.
Kline said the camp provides a respite for the child's parents and a chance for the youngsters to experience something new or different. Yet, she is realistic about what the camp can accomplish.
"We try to seize the teachable moment," she said. "We know we can't change behavior in four days."
Kline said the camp costs $650 a child, but scholarships are available for those needing financial assistance.