Caitlyn & Marguerite sat knee to knee in a sunny room at the Hawks Camp in Park City, Utah. On one wall was a white board with these questions: What’s your favorite vacation and why? What’s your favorite thing about yourself? If you could have any superpower, what would it be?
Caitlyn, who is 13, and Marguerite, who is 16 (I’ve used only their first names to protect their privacy), held yellow sheets of paper on which they had written their answers. It was the third day of the weeklong camp, late for icebreakers. But the Hawks are kids with autistic disorders accompanied by a normal or high I.Q. And so the main goal of the camp, run on a 26-acre ranch by a Utah nonprofit organization called the National Ability Center, is to nudge them toward the sort of back and forth — “What’s your favorite video game?” — that comes easily to most kids.
Along with Caitlyn and Marguerite, there were nine boys in the camp between the ages of 10 and 18. They also sat across from one another in pairs, with the exception of one 18-year-old who was arguing with a counselor. “All I require is a purple marker,” the boy said over and over again, refusing to write with the black marker he had been given. A few feet away, an 11-year-old was yipping and grunting while his partner read his answers in a monotone, eyes trained on his yellow paper. Another counselor hurried over to them.