Oakland County Parks and Recreation earns national autism inclusion award

Oakland County Parks and Recreation (OCPR) has been recognized with an Achievement Award from the National Association of Counties (NACo) for its OUCARES Day Camp and Staff Training program aimed at a better understanding of how to interact with individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder.
In 2016, OCPR supervisors received a unique training opportunity provided through the Oakland University Center for Autism, also known as OUCARES. During the training session, OCPR supervisors learned to recognize common characteristics of autism spectrum and how to communicate effectively with visitors with autism.
OCPR enjoys a unique relationship with the OUCARES. Each summer OCPR hosts an OUCARES Autism Camp at Independence Oaks County Park. Campers are picked up and bused to the park for a wide variety of activities.
“Each year, campers look forward to experiencing the outdoors and socializing at the parks,” Kristin L. Rohrbeck, director of OUCARES, said. “The parks staff is always extremely kind and helpful with our unique population. The parks have gone above and beyond by having OUCARES offer autism training for their staff to help them understand the disability and equip them with helpful strategies and technique to effectively work with our campers.”
“Oakland County Parks and Recreation is committed to providing people of all abilities with the recreational equipment, programs and services they need to maintain an active and healthy lifestyle at its 13 parks,” OCPR Executive Officer Dan Stencil said. “To better serve patrons with developmental, cognitive and physical disabilities, as well as their families and caregivers, OCPR makes training its staff members a priority.”
Autism affects the way the brain processes information, OCPR supervisors learned during the training session. OUCARES leaders shared that autism affects people in four major areas:

  • Communication
  • Social interaction
  • Sensory integration
  • Learning styles

The growth of OUCARES demonstrates a clear need for autism outreach in Oakland County. OUCARES began in 2004 with just one program and 25 families. Last year, it held more than 25 programs and assisted 1,400-plus families.

“The training for OCPR staff members was a one-time opportunity, but the lessons park supervisors took away from the training session has been repeatedly shared throughout the year with seasonal staff,” Stencil said. “The goal is to provide excellent customer service throughout the parks system.”
The award for the OUCARES program will be presented in July 23 at the NACo annual conference in Columbus, OH. Started in 1970, NACo’s annual Achievement Award Program is designed to recognize innovative county government programs among America’s 3,069 county governments.  NACo brings county officials together to advocate on national policy, exchange ideas and build new leadership skills, pursue transformational county solutions, enrich the public’s understanding of county government and exercise exemplary leadership in public service. 
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