With special powers like super-sonic hearing, Full Spectrum Farms cultivated superhero powers in their autistic clients during their Avengers-themed summer camp last week.

The nonprofit in Cullowhee hosted their annual camp in conjunction with Southwestern Community College’s occupational therapy assistant program. The student interns provided a 1:1 ratio with the seven to 10 campers attending throughout the week.

The camp provided a week of social activities geared to address the needs of building fine and gross motor skills for children and adults with autism or sensory processing disorders.

The camp included a variety of activities designed to build confidence and social skills. Activities included a superhero obstacle course, snack-making to increase flavor palettes and egg retrieval from a chicken coop for the children’s camp. For the adults, the skills were geared more toward life skills of cooking with picture recipes, driving golf carts and filling out job applications.

These activities contribute to their overall growth, said Erin McManus, director at Spectrum Farms.

“For both adults and kids, the social connections they make are huge because a lot of the people we serve may not make those connections within their traditional school settings,” McManus said. “Acceptance, the social connection and the confidence that they build from learning those skills are huge here.”

The 34-acre piece of land purchased in 2002 began as simply an idea of what farm therapy could provide for those in the community, but years later it has evolved to become much more.

“The first year I was here we had a very small summer camp for preschoolers,” McManus said. “The need in our community is so high that parents started asking about kids in elementary school, middle school and adults. And from there we have just blossomed.”

The participants at the farm aren’t the only ones impacted. The SCC occupational therapy program students benefit from the experience as well, said Anna Walls, OTA program director.

“The real-life experience is great for the students and they get to help the community at the same time,” said Walls. “OTA really has a heart for working in community settings like this because that’s where people want to be and helping them be successful here.”

Eric Dills, an intern in the OTA program, enjoys working the kids and wants to do something like this in the future.

“We have a wide spectrum of kids and we give them sensory experiences and socialization, a lot of the things occupational therapists do to work with kids with autism,” Dills said. “I really like working here and could see myself doing something like this in the future.”

McManus said so much is being learned at the farm and she is just happy to be a small part of it all.

“I am so blessed to work here. I feel like every day I go home and think of at least one thing from that day that was awesome,” McManus said. “Seeing each of my clients reach goals and become more independent is the best part.”

Jenkins is an intern at the Sylva Herald.