Ellie Ayer-Haynes and Ally Weeks socialize at Finding the Pieces camp at the J. Richard Martin Community Center in Biddeford on Wednesday. LIZ GOTTHELF/Journal Tribune

BIDDEFORD — A summer camp is providing socialization and fun opportunities for children with autism and some practical work experience for University of New England students.

Finding the Pieces is a two-week summer camp for children with autism who are in Kindergarten through fifth grade, brought together through a collaboration with UNE, the City of Biddeford and the Autism Society of Maine.

The camp, which began in 2017, is in session this week and next at the J. Richard Martin Community Center.

For the day-campers, it’s a fun experience.

Ten-year-old Ally Weeks of Biddeford said on Wednesday she enjoyed meeting friends at the camp and had fun riding a horse at Hearts and Horses on Tuesday and tie dying earlier. She said was looking forward to making slime later that day and going to a movie the next day.

Six-year-old Ellie Ayer-Hayes of Berwick said she was surprised by all the fun activities at the camp.

The programs is also beneficial to UNE students who serve as camp counselors, and receive credit toward a class in the Health, Wellness and Occupational Studies Department. Counselors work with campers one-on-one on games, crafts and science activities and during community field trips.

Associate Professor and Chair of the Education Department Audrey Bartholomew said this of hands-on learning is in line with the school’s commitment to experiential education.

Autism is a spectrum disorder that affects individuals differently and to varying degrees of severity, and by working directly with children with autism, UNE students learn the different ways the disorder affects people, she said.

Students completed coursework in the spring prior to the session, and as part of the credit requirements journal every day, said Bartholomew. After the camp day is over, students discuss and review the day with camp administration.

“I think it’s a great experience,” Bartholomew said.

UNE student Ally Pezzolesi said being a counselor at the camp has been fun. Pezzolesi, who is graduating in 2020 with a major in medical biology and a minor in special education, wants to become a pediatrician. She said the camp has given her an opportunity to apply what she has learned in the classroom.

Camp counselor Emma Smith will graduate UNE in 2020 with a degree in Health, Wellness and Occupational Studies and plans to become an occupational therapist.

“It’s so fun,” she said, of the camp.

Smith said the experience has been helpful to her because she found she has really enjoyed working with children with autism and could see herself possibly working with children in the future as an occupational therapist.

Staff Writer Liz Gotthelf can be reached at 780-9015 or by email at [email protected].

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