Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) diagnosis danced and sang to show they found their voices during the ending program held Friday afternoon at Behavioral Health Associates' Packer Ridge Academy.

Groups of four or five children took the stage to show off posters they had worked on together, or came on as a group to sing a "camp" song. There was lots of laughter and interaction between the children throughout the program.

With attendance almost doubled from last year, the second annual Summer Therapeutic Activities Program for children with autism spectrum disorder was termed a huge success by school officials.

The program, "Finding My Voice" is a unique six week summer program that serves children with ASD diagnosis, their siblings and neurotypical peers from the community.

Students with Students in the ASD spectrum are often bullied and ostracized by their peers due to lack of understanding social protocols and cues. The camp helped ASD spectrum students learn how to interact with others.

ASD students often shut down and withdraw from others, making it difficult, if not impossible for them to learn in a traditional academic setting,

The STAP program was held July 5 through July 12 to provide children ages 3 to 16 an opportunity to develop and practice a variety of social skills with peers. Children received intensive treatment services that extended beyond those in a traditional summer camp.

Campers went on several outings to the Lehighton Pool, Carbon County Environmental Education Center, Mauch Chunk Lake Park and Beltzville Lake State Park. They were also treated to educational presentations by Mary Derr and her therapy dogs and Tom Evans of the Lehighton Pool.

Lisa-Marie Nicholson, STAP director, said the program showcased the campers' achievements over the summer.

Behavioral Health Associates is a nonprofit health care foundation based in the Lehighton area.

Mark Marek, director of marketing for Educare of Pa. Inc. said that the camp was a very busy place.

"My office is next door to the camp," said Marek. "I was amazed by the way the children responded to Lisa-Marie. The camp was a very busy place."

BHA provides an intensive social skills training program to help children build socialization skills which help improve their quality of life. BHA offers a low student to teacher ratio which provides for more opportunities for individualized instruction and attention. Social skills training is crucial to students' success in both their district home school and life in general.