Camp Jigsaw continues for 11th year

Starkville Police Sgt. George Coleman speaks with campers at Camp Jigsaw, a camp for boys with autism ages 13 and up at MSU. Coleman and other SPD officers answered the campers’ questions about law enforcement and other public safety topics. (Photo by Charlie Benton, SDN

Starkville Fire Department Sgt. Nathan Herndon talks with students at Camp
Jigsaw, a camp for teenage boys with autism held annually at MSU. Herndon and
other firefighters from SFD Ladder 1 answered questions and showed off their truck.
The camp is in its 11th year. (Photo by Charlie Benton, SDN)

Staff Writer

A group of young men have convened in Starkville for the 11th year to have fun and learn how to better live in a world which may not always understand them.

Camp Jigsaw began Sunday at Mississippi State University, and will run until Friday. The camp gives high school aged boys with autism a chance to have fun and hone their social skills, with visits to various sites, classes and discussions with several groups. The program also counts as contact hours and internships for graduate students under MSU special education professor and Camp Jigsaw founder Sandy Devlin.

On Thursday, the campers were visited by the Starkville Police Department and Fire Department and were given presentations by each. They also got to see SFD’s Ladder 1 up close.

SPD Sgt. Chad Williams said he had been involved with Camp Jigsaw for three years, due to his niece being a part of the program.

“I just got the police department involved to talk to the kids,” Williams said. “It’s community oriented, letting the kids know that they have somebody on their side they can depend on, and call us.”

Devlin discussed the purpose of Camp Jigsaw.

“We provide an experience where our campers and our special education graduate students work together,” Devlin said. “It started about 11 years ago, when I realizedthat my graduate students in special ed didn’t have a place to do their internship in the summer, which is a 90-hour contact with someone with a disability, so we started this camp.”

Some activities campers participate in include bowling, visits to Lake Tiak-O’Khata in Louisville, going to the movies and rock wall climbing. Most attendees are from Mississippi, but Tennessee, Alabama, Alaska, Georgia, Texas and Massachusetts are also represented. The camp is free for all attendees and is funded entirely by donations.

“We don’t advertise,” Devlin said. “It’s entirely by word of mouth. We have close to 50 campers here, and they come from all over the country. “It grows every year. It gets bigger and bigger.”

She said she would like to see the camp grow even more, but would have to figure out how to raise more money to support it.

Devlin also emphasized the lessons she wanted her students to learn as counselors at Camp Jigsaw. She said although autism training has become mainstream, the lessons are sometimes not used when they can make a difference.

“I wanted all of my students who graduated to be able to identify an individual with autism and know how to pull them out and teach them appropriately,” Devlin said.

West Point native Danny Crawford Jr., a rising sophomore at the East Mississippi Community College Early College High School, was attending Camp Jigsaw for the
second year. He discussed what he had gained from the camp.

“It’s been fun to me, just being around our kind of boys,” Crawford said.

He said his favorite part of the camp was going to Lake Tiak-O’Khata, and also said he enjoyed the police and fire department presentations.

“It’s helped me with social skills that we work on, and it’s helped me learn how to solve different situations,” Crawford said.

Andrew Carlisle, a rising junior at Starkville High School, also emphasized the gains he had made in social skills at Camp Jigsaw. Next year, Carlisle will serve as a counselor at the camp.

“Every morning we wake up and we do social skills,” Carlisle said. “We practice appropriate conversation, eye contact, start off a conversation, how to end a conversation … I’ve grown over the years, which Dr. Devlin has seen as well. I used to be really non-social, but with the help of Dr. Devlin and this camp, and that class, what she’s done. I have been able to be more social. I have been able to express myself better than just keeping quiet, not doing anything.”