Betty Camp has spent a lifetime building a world of acceptance, understanding and opportunity for children with special needs.
“The one thing that everyone wants to be is accepted, handicapped or not. It doesn’t matter who you are,” she said.
Born in 1932 in Pinehurst, NC, Camp graduated from Shaw University with a bachelor’s degree in sociology and a minor in English. She taught social studies and language arts at Douglas High School in Leesburg, VA, for five years. Returning to North Carolina, she took graduate classes to become certified to teach special education before joining the faculty at 14th Street School in Winston-Salem.
Deciding to move to Raleigh, which the family considered home, Camp taught special education at Carnage Middle School for two years before being recruited as a vocational rehabilitation counselor in the state Department of Human Resources. She spent the next 20 years helping special needs students obtain and succeed in jobs after graduating from high school. This included mentoring them on how to interview, deal with employers and professional dress and decorum. She also assisted students with physical disabilities get into college.
“With my son being autistic, I really felt very personally that I was helping them like I would want someone to help my son,” Camp said.
The work was challenging but extremely rewarding and Camp felt both joy and pride at making a difference for the students. She still fondly recalls seeing one student working in the cafeteria of a major medical center 10 years after she had helped him secure the job.
“That made a big difference in my life because I realized that if he had never crossed my path, he might never have gotten a job or had someone who understood him,” Camp said.
In 1960, her passion became even more personal with the birth of her son, Norman. By the age of three, he had stopped speaking and begun displaying odd behaviors. From her background, Camp realized that he needed special support.
Diagnosed as autistic, Norman was admitted at age eight to a special research project undertaken at UNC Chapel Hill. The research model addressed autism without blaming the parents, but instead envisioned parents as co-therapists to help their child.
Norman’s two-year participation in the research project sparked Camp to create the Autism Society of North Carolina (ASNC) to support families and improve lives.
In addition, the research led to the University of North Carolina TEACCH® Autism Program, which provides information, training and clinical services to individuals with autism, their families and professionals across the state.
Camp was president of the ASNC from 1986 to 1990. During her time as president, she was appointed to a two-year term on the National Board of Directors of the Autism Society of America.
In 1997, Camp helped created Camp Royall, a camp specifically designed for autistic children. Located in Pittsboro, it offers activities such as hiking, swimming, boating and arts and crafts in a structured environment. Those who have attended have shown an increase in independence, confidence and a willingness to try new things.
Looking back at her life’s work, Camp said “I really feel blessed that I learned to know these people who became my friends.”
By Allyson Wainright