Camp Bluebird: NC mother creates community for children with autism

HOLLY SPRINGS, N.C. -- Doctors diagnosed Erin O'Laughlin's son Marcus with severe autism at the age of three - causing Erin to readjust her entire life.

"He needs routine, he needs structure, he would become very disoriented and needed something to do, life would get out of sorts for him."

She realized nothing existed in the Triangle to meet the needs of her son, so she quickly got to work.

She founded Camp Bluebird - a division of 3 Blue Birds Farm that provides track out and summer camp services for school-aged children with autism.

"One thing led to another and a small seed grew into a big tree and before I knew it I started thinking about the future as well."

She believes facilities like this help provide children with autism with the routine and consistency they need to live up to their full potential.

"Our program is reactional. It's a camp but it's extremely structured."

In the United States, there are only about 25 facilities designed with the needs of autistic kids and adults in mind.

"For the first time in a very long time, I can leave my child somewhere other than school and I don't have to worry about him," said Montoya Rouse, who has a child in Camp Bluebird.

Lots of parents are in her shoes. In the United States, 1 in 59 children are diagnosed with autism and it's four times more common in boys than in girls.

Doctors diagnosed Montoya Rouse's son Mason with autism when he was two.

"He can't tell me how his day is or how he's been treated so I have to pay attention to cues for the people that are caring for him and he loves Erin and Andrea. He's such a lovable kid but he's not that way with everyone."

She says it's been a struggle trying to find services that accommodate Mason's needs.

"Another challenge is protecting him from the cruel people."

"It's just a matter of knowing how brilliant he is, how excellent he is, how amazing he is, how important and how loved he is because he is."

She dreams that one day Mason will be self sufficient.

Kimberly Lopez is a special education teacher who helps children like Mason achieve that goal, she recognizes the importance of creating alternative environments for unconventional learners.

Kimberly says services like Camp Bluebird are critical in maintaining a child's progress over long breaks.

"They're kind of mimicking the structure of a classroom but in a camp setting."

"A lot of times when our students go home and they lose that structure of our day, when they come back it's really hard for them to transition back."

Camp Bluebird is only a stepping stone for Erin's overall vision of having a residential farm that truly helps those living with autism.

"So many of these organizations pop up because it's a parent who's desperate for help and they can't get it."

She says with just a little help...people working with those with autism can dig in to find their special gifts and allow them to blossom in a different way.

Maryam Mohamed is a student at the UNC School of Media and Journalism.