HAWS Winter Camp ran last week when the kids had a break from school. One of the goals of our education program is to help children develop empathy for all living things. We do this through introducing the concept of caring about the needs of animals and thinking about how people's actions might effect an animal's well-being.
Two of the boys attending were high-functioning autistic and therefore behaved different than the other children. I worried that the other kids in the group would notice this difference and tease them, or at the very least not be tolerant of them.
I didn't need to worry, since all the kids made me very proud. Not only were they tolerant of the two boys, but they went out of their way to be considerate of them and reached out to make sure they were included in every way. I observed kids moving over to make room for the two boys with autism, asking them if they wanted to join in activities when the boys were off to the side, and making sure the boys had extra opportunities to engage with the animals we had out.
Was this a result of our programming? It's hard to say -- most of the kids have been through HAWS camps or other educational programs in the past. I'd like to take at least partial credit for it, but I'd also like to think that our world is becoming more accepting of people who aren't like us.