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Pushing the Limits for Our Children with Autism

Ascendigo Adventures Summer Camp through the Years
By Eswar Sundar

The tiny Hyundai struggled up Watson Divide deep into the Roaring Fork Valley wilderness. Sugantha and I were wondering if this was indeed the way to the Ascendigo camp. Suddenly the car lost traction and slid towards a precipitous drop at a steep turn sliding sideways on the unpaved road. My heart skipped a beat as I fought to control the skid. Sri was happily talking to himself in the rear seat, oblivious of the danger. Sugantha and I thought maybe this is a mistake risking life and limb trying to get to a relatively unknown summer camp for kids and teens with autism.

It was 2007. Ascendigo, then known as Extreme Sports Camp, was a fledgling organization. We had been referred to the camp by another parent who had sent their son there the previous year. Sri has always been an active kid and needed physical activity to help him regulate and bring a smile on. This camp seemed to be the right fit, however, it was far away in Colorado. We lived in Massachusetts. Anyway, we were surprised to get a call from the founder Sallie Bernard and after about 30 minutes on the phone, we were convinced it’s worth a try.

In life, there are many moments of doubts, uncertainty, and fear. The only way we were going to overcome those hesitant moments was to push ahead and see what’s on the other side (of Watson Divide)! Otherwise, we all will live life in doubt and “what if’s?”. The road through Watson Divide eventually took us to the suddenly beautiful but isolated Aspen Deaf Camp that was the base for Extreme Sports Camp. Immediately the love and caring of the people who ran the camp was apparent. Our doubts dissolved away as we were welcomed into that wonderful community!

Sri was immediately drawn in. Everyone seemed to be having fun. Sri’s first counselor was Morgan from California. For the next week, we had the most wonderful time and Sri had the time of his life. No adventure was off limits. Rock climbing, whitewater rafting, horseback riding, hiking, zip lining — it was all in full throttle!

It’s now been more than a decade since we first met Sallie and her wonderful band of counselors. The years have gone by, the organization reformed as Ascendigo, but we never stopped coming back. We did the winter camps too and Sri was soon skiing, something we never thought he could do! We brought our friends from Boston, who in turn brought their friends. Very soon Sri had all his friends around him all the time — Nat, Mat, Justin, Drew, DJ, and Sidharth.

We always had the most caring and wonderful of counselors. Every one of them a gem who brought the right mix of support and independence to the job allowing Sri to gain confidence and plot his own path.

Sri is now 22. Last year in July he spent 2 weeks at Colorado Mountain College campus with Ascendigo, completely independent. He then decided he needed more fun, so Sri and friends went off to be the pioneer campers at Ascendigo Maine, the first time Ascendigo is attempting a satellite camp. It clearly was a blast as Sri wanted to go back the next week after we returned home!

We will be back with more friends, hopefully. Our community of parents with young adults with a disability in and around Boston have an insatiable appetite for pushing limits and always seeing what’s over that hump in the road for their children. We are the best of friends, constantly innovating, supporting each other, sharing experiences, and indulging in novel methods of social engineering to build fun-filled, independent and productive lives for our children. It all started on a slippery dusty road up the Watson Divide and we dared to peer over the hump and go on…

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