BERKELEY, Calif. (KGO) --There are a number of summer camps for children who are on the autism spectrum, but few train them to be junior counselors when they reach the teen years. UC Berkeley's Department of Recreational Sports has a social skills program that helps give these teens the tools they need to succeed later on in the workplace.
"I'm a very honest and direct person. I'll tell people to shut up," Victoria Casciato told ABC7 News. At times, she has been known to have trouble regulating her words, but it's actually quite common for some kids with ADD, or on the autism spectrum, to say and do what they feel.
"They've told the young camper they're not good at basketball, and maybe the camper isn't, but the things we learn as we move into the teenage years is we don't say that to a 7-year old," educational psychologist Jennifer Selke said.
Selke started the social skills program at Berkeley's Blue Camp 11 years ago. There, they teach them how to measure their emotions and behaviors, and when and how to talk or interact with others.
Victoria, who is 19, is working this summer as a junior counselor learning from social skills coaches like Mark Goodenough. "Soft skills, as far as getting along, as far as talking to your group leader, but then hard skills too, filling out a time sheet, understanding what it means to be on time. If they're sick, calling," Goodenough explained.
Besides learning about integration, it's an opportunity to build their work profile, something many don't have. "This allows them to not only develop some work skills, have somebody to vouch for, they're coming in on time, they're being safe, all the things that anybody needs in a job, as well as developing a resume," Selke said.
Victoria says the past four weeks have shown her how to be more empathetic. "Well, if someone said that to you, how would you feel? It's like putting the other people in the other person's perspective," she said.
"Every teenager wants to feel like everybody else," Selke said.
The program doesn't don't try to fix a child's weaknesses. It focuses on developing their strengths.