Red Kite Project helps kids with autism

June 23, 2011 (CHICAGO)

It's a summer adventure full of creative activities and fun.

Three years ago, the Chicago Children's Theatre started both the Red Kite Project and Camp Red Kite.

These programs are only tailored to children with autism as the population keeps growing.

Children from Chicago's Thorp School's special education program got a chance to participate recently.

Actor John Francisco, better known as Park Ranger Bob, is also the curriculum director at Camp Red Kite.

"It's a fantastic camp where there's a really low student-to-teacher ratio," said Francisco. "And the kids rotate between four different disciplines, so they take drama, they take music and movement, and then they do visual arts as well. It's great."

Also participating in the adventure is 14-year-old Brendon Loftus. He attended Camp Red Kite last summer for three weeks.

"Last winter, my husband and I took Brendon down to Millennium Park and saw the Red Kite Project, and he absolutely loved it. And we knew then that if we could find a way to get Brendon into Camp Red Kite that we would pursue that," mom Julie Loftus said.

She said it really changed her son.

"We lived in La Grange Park, so to get to Lakeview every day was a commitment of time, and Brendon had to get up very early in the morning so we could get to camp by 8:30 in the morning. And he never complained, which is kind of unusual, you know, he wanted to get up every morning and go to camp. And he really loved camp," Julie Loftus said. "This has given him a chance to really have his own kind of theater experience."

Like the Red Kite round up performances, the camp has a highly structured schedule designed for children with autism spectrum disorder with experienced and trained staff and artists.

"We bring in peer mentors who are neuro-typical peers from high schools, and then we also bring in adults or teenagers with autism to serve as peer mentors as well. So the program is set up to have kids attend the program and then graduate the program and then assist the program and sort of be in the workforce," Francisco said.

Camp starts at the end of July in the city's Lakeview area. So far, about 40 campers have signed up.

"We started off with 20 two yeas ago. Last year, we had 30," Francisco said.

"Brendon is actually going to be starting high school this summer," Julie Loftus said. "This will be his last year where he can actually be a camper, but we have worked it out so that he will be able to return to camp this summer."

"I had fun at camp and at the playground," Brendon said.

For more information on Camp Red Kite, fees and schedule, visit:

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