Portsmouth mom: Son with autism kicked out of camp for kids with special needs

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PORTSMOUTH, Va. - A full-time working mom says she is scrambling to find summer care options for her autistic son after he was kicked out of a camp geared for kids with special needs.

Jameta Crenshaw enrolled 14-year-old Justus in the city of Portsmouth's therapeutic recreation program, which is one of their camps within the Summer RAYS program.

According to the camp website, it is "specifically designed for our special needs participants."

However, after a few days, Crenshaw says she was given a letter that Justus hit and punched staff and he would not be able to return.

"He does not punch, will hit with an open hand, he'll pinch, and a lot of that is to get your attention," says Crenshaw.

She says the same thing happened two years ago and she made sure camp staff were aware of his tendencies this year.

"I have to work and if I don't work then we can't live, so you know, it's just very frustrating."

Her situation hits close to home for the treasurer of the Autism Society of Tidewater Virginia, Jan Hodgson.

Hodgson's son, who also has autism and is now 23-years-old, was kicked out of camps and daycare when he was younger. She feels affordable camp options in Hampton Roads are limited.

"With the transient nature that we have here with the military, I don't know why we don't have more," she says.

A spokeswoman for the city of Portsmouth, Dana Woodson, refused to comment on Justus' situation because he is a minor.

She did provide News 3 with a handbook given to parents in all of their camps in the Summer RAYS program, which does address behavior issues.

In a statement to News 3, Woodson says, "Our procedure is to review each case and the actions we take depend on the severity of the incident."

"Unfortunately to be removed from the program is often the wrong, we have to work on training and awareness," says Hodgson.

That training and awareness is something she says the Autism Society is working on every day.

Hodgson hopes it can lead to more inclusive camps, not only for more affordable options for parents, but for special needs kids to not be isolated.

"They're just another kid like them, just a little bit different, not less of a person."

Crenshaw says she has Justus in a three-hour summer school in the mornings and is relying on family members to take care of him until she gets home from work.

News 3 has since connected her with Hodgson who is hoping to find her a more ideal solution.