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Summer camp encourages inclusion with films made by autistic youth

Aug 18, 2015

This summer marks the 10th anniversary of a very special summer camp program at Oakland University in Rochester.

It’s the annual film camp for young people on the autism spectrum. Campers from ages 10 to 20 write, direct, edit and star in a short film. It’s followed by a red carpet premiere for attendees and their families in October.

The camp is part of OUCARES: the Oakland University Center for Autism.

Actor, director, screenwriter, producer and special education teacher Joey Travolta leads the camp.

He hopes to “give young people with autism a voice and make them feel included.”

The final product of the camp is made up of two parts: a short film created by campers, and a documentary that follows the process of making the film, including interviews with the campers.

By creating a film together, Travolta says campers learn better communication and how to collaborate, forming friendships in the process.

Coming from a show business family, with Travolta's  younger brother being actor John and growing up with their mother as a singer, Travolta says he was the only member to earn a degree.

After deciding to go into teaching he says “there wasn’t a lot of money in teaching and I was spending my paychecks on the kids and I would’ve gone broke. I knew I would always come back to it.”

Now, Travolta oversees five camps and four full-time workshops for adults with developmental disabilities, including one at Oakland.

Jake Skelly has been attending the film camp since it began ten years ago. He says he has enjoyed acting, editing and leaning animation. In the fall he will be attending Macomb Community College, taking classes on theater, art and English.

Travolta says he’s learned a lot from the campers. “They teach us tolerance, they teach us inclusion and those are two things that if you live your life that way you’re going to be a pretty good person.”