Living with autism

Published 6:32 am Thursday, April 8, 2010

Quincy Muzik plays chess. He enjoys his Nintendo DS like a lot of kids. He has three dogs, loves history and his favorite movie is “Ghostbusters.”

“I like to go old school,” he says of his taste in movies.

Quincy is in third grade at Banfield Elementary and is also autistic, which means he has a complex developmental disability that affects his ability to interact with others.

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You wouldn’t know it by talking with him, though.

“My brain works differently than other kids,” he says. “No one knows what it means, but someone will find out some day.”

April is National Autism Awareness Month and according to the Autism Society, the disability is prevalent in one in 110 births in the United States.

There are also Austin area families who have a child with autism —just like the Muziks — enough that the Hormel Historic Home will host a day camp this summer specifically for children with autism and similar disorders.

“The main focus of the camp is to give the kids some skills and do some of the things that many of us take for granted,” says Laura Helle, executive director of the Hormel Historic Home.

The Circle of Friends Day Camp will be held July 26 through July 30 and is partially funded by the Hormel Foundation, United Way of Mower County, Austin Area Foundation and private donors.

Cost is $100 per child for the camp that runs from 9:30 a.m. to 2:45 p.m. Monday through Thursday and on 9:30 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. Friday.

The camp will be led by Heather Hanzlick, who travels around area schools in the region as an autism specialist. Hanzlick will be assisted by 13 paid camp staff as well as volunteers.

“We think that long term (the camp’s) going to make these students a lot more integrated in the community and be able to hold a job and be able to contribute more meaningful to the community,” Helle says.

The idea of the camp started after the Hormel Historic Home’s recent expansion as a way to increase education outreach. Helle says it was Hormel Historic Home volunteers who identified the need to reach the autistic members of the community.

“It’s wonderful,” Helle says, of the upcoming camp. “The more I learn about the need and the cutting edge curriculum we will be doing, the more I’m getting excited.”

The Hormel Historic Home is working with the Autism Society of Minnesota on the curriculum. That organization runs similar camps in the Twin Cities.

Helle says the main portion of the camp will revolve around encouraging social interaction though daily community visits. One planned visit, for example, will be walking to an ice cream shop in small groups and allowing each camper to order an ice cream cone.

Another visit will be going to the library.

“It’s very tough to interact socially,” Helle says, of people who are autistic.

Danny and Mary Muzik know that first hand and say they are excited about the camp for their son Quincy, who has registered.

“I think for Quincy it’s awesome,” Mary Muzik says.

On April 13, in part to celebrate his 40th birthday, Danny Muzik will be hosting Karaoke for the Camp at Torge’s Live from 8 p.m. to closing. All donations will benefit the Circle of Friends Day Camp, and Danny and Mary Muzik will match the final amount donated up to $1,000.

The Circle of Friends Day Camp is open to children entering first through fifth grades for the 2010 and 2011 school year.

Registration is open to 25 children.

For more information, call Laura Helle at 433-4243.