Each summer at Camp Royall, Tommy Guthrie Johnson is all grins and giggles as he enjoys swimming, hiking, digging in the garden, and singing camp songs, silly motions and all.
Tommy, who is 14, is “complex,” said his mother, Megan Johnson. “He’s so challenging but so funny and smart and cuddly and loveable.”
Megan adopted Tommy when he was 2, and he was soon diagnosed with autism. He had experienced trauma, had no safety awareness, and was aggressive toward other children. He also is diagnosed with apraxia and did not communicate verbally.
Tommy required 24-hour supervision. At the Autism Society of North Carolina’s Camp Royall, campers receive one-on-one care and are able to enjoy typical camp activities in an environment structured to meet the needs of individuals with autism.
“Outside of paid professionals, there are very few people who can care for him,” Megan said. “So that one week of camp has been one of the only times that our family can do stuff that we can’t do with him.”
Tommy has attended to Camp Royall almost every summer since 2010. He still requires constant supervision, but he has made “phenomenal progress” over the past year and a half, Megan said. He can engage with other children. He is very adaptive and communicates with a combination of verbal approximations, signing, and manipulating the environment.
Tommy’s family has also used Autism Society of North Carolina respite care and attended some year-round programs at Camp Royall.
To help give back, Tommy and his family participate in the annual Greensboro Run/Walk for Autism. Over the years, family, friends, school staff, and direct support workers have joined Team Tommy, wearing shirts with his photo as they raise awareness and funds.
“Over the years, the support that the Autism Society of North Carolina has given our family has allowed us to keep him at home,” Megan said. “It’s hard to put into words or quantify the impact that the Autism Society of North Carolina and Camp Royall has had on our family.”
The 11th annual Greensboro Run/Walk for Autism on Sept. 28 at Jaycee Park will feature a 5K race, a recreational 1K run/walk, music, refreshments, and a resource fair. Participants can register at greensbororunwalkforautism.com