By Felice Brenner with ABC of NC

According to Angela Kelly, it took just a few weeks in the ABC of NC Summer Education Program to change her son Sam’s life forever

“We decided to try ABC of NC for a little while in the summer and he just flourished there,” she said. “They believed in my child and helped him learn to communicate in his own way.”

ABC of NC Child Development Center’s Summer Education Program combines the fun of a summer day camp with evidence-based programs specifically designed for children with autism. Many families are introduced to ABC of NC’s teaching philosophy in the school’s summer program due to its affordability, eight-week time frame and low teacher to student ratios.

According to Selene Johnson, ABC of NC’s executive director, the summer program is the school’s most popular service for three reasons— 1) lots of children with autism, 2) a lack of quality autism-specific programming in the community,  and 3) few seasonal options.

Since its inception six years ago, ABC of NC summer programs have become increasingly popular with currently enrolled students and students who attend other programs during the regular school year. The school also invites “typically developing peers,” often siblings of the children with autism or the staff’s children, to join in the fun.

The Centers for Disease Control estimates that one in 70 North Carolinians have some form of autism spectrum disorder, meaning that there are thousands of families who are looking for autism-specific educational and recreational programs for their children. Plus, many children with autism do not receive full-year educational programs in their regular school settings and sit idle during the summer months.

“I love that my child gets to stay in a routine and actually learns during the summer,” said Linda, another ABC of NC summer program parent.

In the ABC of NC summer program, students with autism experience a wide range of activities including field trips, swimming, sports, games, art, music, and more, while learning pivotal skills such as communication and social skills. The school groups students based on a variety of factors including age and developmental levels while specific goals are based on each student’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP), developed by an experienced and highly qualified educational team. And all of the students are integrated with “typically developing peers” for a more inclusive environment that allows social interaction and communication practice with other children.

“ABC of NC’s summer programs provide the best of both worlds for our kids with autism,” said Amy Vestal, summer program director. “The structure allows students to continue their school-year academic goals while also working on the fun stuff–social, play and communication skills all disguised as outdoor games and making new friends.”

According to Vestal, the summer program mission is to provide safe, effective and measurable instruction based on each student’s individual needs in a fun, natural environment recreational setting. The program accepts children ranging from age three to 21 who are at risk for or have been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. The school includes Asperger’s Syndrome in this range of disorders.

Vestal said that the summer program is designed for children who may have limited language skills, limited play interests or difficulty with peer interaction. The school is committed to providing highly individualized educational services based on evidence-based practices in the field of autism treatment to children with autism spectrum disorders and their families. It applies best practices as established by the National Research Council and uses evidence-based teaching methods as determined by the National Autism Center’s 2009 National Standards Report

According to Kelly, 11-year-old Sam wasn’t making much progress in his development skills during his regular school day.

“I always knew he could learn and last summer provided the jump start. He accomplished so many goals in a short period and we decided that this is the place for him,” she said.

Sam learned to enjoy water play, including a teacher dumping water on his head, and started initiating playground play—on a seesaw–with a friend.  He started using Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) to communicate at school and at home.

“The goals and teaching are completely tailored to Sam specifically,” said Kelly. “It’s just what he needs to be able to learn.”

After his dramatic progress last summer, Kelly enrolled Sam full-time in ABC of NC’s regular school day program.

ABC of NC Child Development Center, a non-public, not-for-profit private school, is the only program of its kind in the Triad and one of only four schools exclusively designed for children with autism in North Carolina.

“We do fill up quickly,” said Vestal. “So we encourage everyone to register early.”

A limited amount of financial aid is available for summer programs. The school determines recipients by lottery. For more information about ABC of NC, visit or call 336-251-1180.

Sponsored by ABC of NC