EL RENO — The rain just wouldn't stop, and the chances of getting to swim were bleak.
Trina Naff-Eaves didn't like the prospect of 12 children with autism stuck inside on a day when they had been promised sun, swimming and food on the grill.
But on the last day of Camp Noggin, Naff-Eaves, 39, thought her campers were handling the change of plans extremely well.
“Swim day is the Big Kahuna of all the days at camp,” she said. “But nobody is freaking out very bad. They're still having fun.”
Fun is the theme for Naff-Eaves's four-day autism-friendly camp at the Youth and Family Services Center in El Reno.
As director, Naff-Eaves believes in letting the children play and be themselves around others with autism. Campers are widely varied in the severity of their disorders.
Naff-Eaves said interaction between campers should come naturally instead of making them have forced conversations and hovering over them to make sure they are doing it correctly.
“Sometimes they are taught like robots how to be social,” Naff-Eaves said. “It's not a natural flow, but here they hang out and interact and really learn from each other.”
Due to the length of the camp, Naff-Eaves said, the best thing for her students to experience is fun. Campers partake in horseback riding, a wild animal show, football, basketball and other activities.
“Our mission is F-U-N. Three capital letters,” Naff-Eaves said. “We are a four-day camp and what can you accomplish in four days besides fun?”
The camp was founded in 2009 by Christie Roberts and sponsored by Autism Oklahoma, Youth and Family Services in El Reno and Autism Canadian Valley.
Naff-Eaves took over as director after the first year because Roberts wanted to step down, and Naff-Eaves didn't want the camp to end. She had seen how beneficial it was for her 11-year-old son Jeremy, who was diagnosed with autism in 2003.
“Ever since my son was diagnosed I became an advocate and have tried my best to help others,” she said. “Taking over the camp felt like a kid just learning to swim. I learned a lot and got my sea legs and I learned a lot about what I liked and what worked.”
Jeremy, who loves listening to the musical group Journey through his headphones, hangs out in one of the two tents set up in the classroom while the other campers play card games, color and build with blocks on the last day of camp.
Naff-Eaves said she is hesitant to make the camp longer because she doesn't want the quality to suffer.
“Parents tell me they would love it if it was all year or all summer,” she said. “We will tweak it every year and try and make it better. Ten or 12 kids is enough right now as all the kids are on a different side of the spectrum.”
Naff-Eaves loves that several children without autism come to the camp.
Christina Roberts, 13, is back at Camp Noggin this year as a volunteer.
“It's been really fun,” she said. “It's given me a lot of patience and how to deal with people with a lot of different behaviors and how I can change for the kids to help them benefit more from the camp.”
Roberts volunteers with her mother, Keta, who has been working with Jeremy at school for the past four years. Naff-Eaves's staff includes teachers and counselors who have experience working with children with autism.
At the end-of-camp ceremony, Naff-Eaves couldn't hold back her emotions while expressing her gratitude to the parents for trusting her with their children. She said between the parents, the teachers, volunteers and campers, there weren't many dry eyes.
“Austism is hard. It's hard to deal with and you can feel alone,” she said. “I'm just so happy that this is turning out good. It means so much to me that the kids are just enjoying themselves and growing together.”