HUDSON — Ben and Grace Terry, 14-year-old twins from Champaign, had never been away from home at camp before.
"I was kind of nervous the first day," admitted Ben, who has Asperger's syndrome, which is on the autism spectrum, and severe anxiety.
"I was a little nervous to go out of town," confessed Grace, who has Asperger's and cerebral palsy. "I was comfortable on the couch."
But there was Ben laughing on Wednesday after a fish again took his hot dog bait and got away. Beside him was Grace, smiling even as her bobber floated on Lake Bloomington with no indication of a bluegill nibble beneath the surface.
"You are showing some good patience there," Allen McBride, the camp director, said encouragingly to Ben and Grace.
"They're there," McBride said of the fish. "You just gotta wait for ’em."
A few minutes later, Paul Robbins, 16, of Orion caught a bluegill. Ben, Grace and several other campers cheered for Paul, who has autism, as he admired the fish and then tossed it back into the lake.
"I'm following directions," Paul said, explaining his success.
"I don't think we were comfortable leaving our parents for five days," Ben said. "The more we were here, the more comfortable we felt. The activities, the food and the counselors are good."
Ben, Grace and Paul are among 25 campers from throughout Central Illinois spending the week at Timber Pointe Outdoor Center for Camp Discovery, a camp for youths and young adults ages 5 through 22 with autism, Tourette Syndrome, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and other disabilities.
Camp Discovery is among several camps happening this summer for children and adults with disabilities at Timber Pointe, which is owned and operated by Easterseals Central Illinois. By the end of summer, 1,200 campers will have spent time at Timber Pointe, McBride said.
"We try to get the campers to discover new activities, new food and new friends," McBride said.
When campers arrive, counselors talk with them about respect for each other and each other's things and appropriate language, McBride said. Then they focus on having fun as they learn about nature, each other and themselves.
"A lot of times, the kids know they're different in some way," McBride said. "They get to see other kids going through some of the same things they are going through.
"We get the kids together and they're all equal because all of them have opportunities to try the same activities," McBride said. "They're learning that their disability doesn't define them."
"I got it! I got it! I got it!" Kira Dees squealed in delight after she caught a bluegill. Dees, 20, of Normal, who has autism, had been at camp before but this was the first time she caught a fish.
"I feel happy because I caught a fish," she reported. "I had to reel it in. Mom will be so proud of me.
"It was this big," she said, extended her hands about a foot apart, in a slight exaggeration. "It was a bluegill."
What has Kira learned at camp?
"I'm the best person ever!" she said, adding, "I learned how to catch a fish with a hot dog."
Olivia Orabutt, 13, of Normal, who has ADHD and oppositional defiant disorder, returned to camp for the third year "because I like the people. The counselors are nice and it gets better every year.
"I've grown up," Olivia explained. "I can have conversations with the counselors."
Olivia, who hit the bullseye while at the archery range, said archery is her favorite activity.
Asked what she's learned at camp, Olivia said "I've learned control of my anger and to have more patience with people.
"Most of the kids here are younger. Some of the people in our group scream and I have more patience with them. I just breathe and walk away," Olivia explained. "It'll help me at home with my younger siblings."
Though nervous at first, Ben said he was fine by day two because McBride gave him a tour of Timber Pointe. "I saw it was pretty cool," Ben said.
Camp activities that Grace and Ben have enjoyed include swimming, zip-lining, horseback riding, hiking, playing instruments and fishing.
"I miss my bed," Grace admitted.
"We've been feeling homesick but thanks to the friendly counselors, the food and the activities, we've been doing well," Ben said.
What would he say to nervous potential campers?
"Just give it a chance," Ben advised. "You never know what you might learn."
McBride smiled. "Mission accomplished."