Summer camp helps special-needs children

Some campers learned a few new dance moves this week at a revamped summer camp for special-needs children in Costa Mesa.

Halfway through the Camp of Creative Minds, which is eight weeks and serves children ages 5 to 18 who have autism or other related disorders, the participants learned the Macarena and Cupid Shuffle as part of Arts and Crafts/Music and Movement Week.

Now in its third year, the summer spinoff from Creative Solutions for Hope, which provides behavior services for children, has switched from weekly field trips to focusing on skills.

The first two years, campers went to places like Color Me Mine, Boomer's and Balboa Island, founder Asha Bhakta said.

She changed the curriculum to give them more time to work on behavior. They learn one new activity per week.

Each Monday, supervisors assess each child's skills then set behavioral goals for the week. Everything is individualized, Bhakta said.

"We wanted to teach them to be able to follow a sequence of steps to a dance sequence," Bhakta said of this week's activities. "We wanted them to be able to have that joint attention, to be able to follow the model that was placed in front, and to be able to dance to the rhythm while having fun."

So far, campers have enjoyed themed weeks focusing on basketball, soccer, field sports and science.

"They've grown as far as socialization, as far as being able to work amongst peers and engage in activities, and communicate," Bhakta said. "They've been able to build skill sets that they didn't have.

"For example, in the basketball camp, I had a lot of kiddos that weren't even able to throw a basketball. We worked a lot on overhand and chest passes. So, by the end of the week, they were able to play in an actual, small scrimmage."

This week, 18 campers worked on art projects and then took to the dance floor.

Zeke Eampietro, 10, said his favorite part of camp was the dancing.

"I like hip-hop and I like jazz, because it's fancy," he said with a smirk.

Ibrahim Rauf, 5, said the Cupid Shuffle is his favorite dance to perform.

"I like doing the rolling thing," he added. "I like doing dance. Well, I like doing eating [snack time] and that's what I like to do."

The camp's two remaining weeks will focus on drama and home economics.

"I think home ec. is going to be a hit," Bhakta said. "They'll be making smoothies and different meals and stuff. ... and they will actually be serving a meal to their parents that come."

During Sociodramatic Week, which starts Aug. 20, campers will work on a staged version of "The Very Hungry Caterpillar," the famous children's book by Eric Carle.

"We're going to have everyone play a part," Bhakta said. "We're going to have a narrator, and everybody has their props that we're having them create during the week."

Parents are welcome to watch throughout the process so that when the final product is revealed, they can witness their child's progress, she added.

"To be able to see their kiddos come in and learn something and practice it over and over, and then be able to perform it is a huge success, something that I think is just invaluable," Bhakta said. "And, it also proves that anything is possible. You just have to put some time and effort into it, and lots and lots of practice.

"It doesn't matter what your disability is — anything is possible."

The camp is $175 per week for a single child, but package and sibling discounts are available. To sign up, email Michelle Toten at

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