Autism Spectrum Disorders

Autism Spectrum Disorders and Mental Health Diagnoses

NPR published an article this week about the prevalence of Mental Health diagnoses in those with an Autism diagnosis (http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2017/10/01/554461501/many-young-adults-with-autism-also-have-mental-health-issues).  While it is not shocking to read that many young adults who have a diagnosis of ASD also have a co-morbid (additional) mental health diagnosis, I was somewhat surprised to read that youth on the spectrum are more than FIVE times likely to have an additional diagnosis such as depression, anxiety or ADHD.  (The article states that the study they are referencing found that 52% of young adults with Autism also have a mental health diagnosis.)

The author quotes a young man on the spectrum who states, “Relationships are so much harder” for those on the spectrum and living in a world that is often fast-paced and filled with nuanced communication can often feel very lonely.  We hear this from our own campers all the time.  Depression and anxiety often stem from feeling disconnected and different.  When our campers live in a world that doesn’t feel like it “fits”, they often feel “less than”, lowering self-esteem and pride.  We feel lucky to be a part of a community that enables our campers (and staff) to feel like they are part of something bigger than themselves, a community where they feel like they belong and aren’t alone.  We witness a great sense of relief in our campers during the summer because they are less anxious and happier being surrounded by friends.

The article also points out how difficult periods of transition are for youth with an ASD diagnosis.  The author writes:

“Transition for youth with autism is a very challenging process,” Davidson says. “It is doable, but it takes a lot of preparation and a lot of time on the part of the families, on the part of the patient and on the part of the providers. The earlier one starts, the better.”

“Research literature suggests that it’s good to start learning daily living skills, such as laundry, cooking, bathing alone and similar chores, around 12 to 14 years old, Davidson says. But she believes that should start as early as possible, depending on a child’s intellectual, social and mental health disabilities.”

“Youth on the autism spectrum may need repetitive modeling and experiences so that they get those skills down and become as independent as possible,” Davidson says. Too many families, she says, do tasks for their adolescents long past when the teen could do them on their own. Other youth continue to need support for what might seem like basic tasks, so parents and care providers have to work to learn the boundaries and abilities for each person on the spectrum.”

Autism Spectrum DisordersOf course, we know that sleep-away summer camps in general, and Camp Akeela in particular, provide precisely the opportunities for independence that this article suggests are necessary.  Being away from home in a safe environment, like camp, allows campers to practice the skills necessary for them to be successful later on in their young adulthood.


Akeela Wisconsin Spring Newsletter

The Wisconsin version of our spring newsletter is here!

Here’s an excerpt from the newsletter:

Happy spring, friends! This has always been the most exciting time of year for us, as we gear up for the camp season. This year is even more exciting as we are preparing for our first summer at our new Wisconsin site! As a family, our transition from Philadelphia to Wisconsin is a busy one, but it will be well worth it as we eagerly anticipate spending this summer with you at camp!

In addition to our excitement, we also feel a bit anxious about our transition. Katie especially always gets “butterflies” in her stomach when she leaves home. When she first started as a counselor at Akeela in 2011, she felt very homesick flying from her home in Ohio to a place that was totally new to her. Even though it’s now her 7th year at Akeela, she stills feels a little homesick at the start of every summer! We want our campers to know that all of these feelings – being excited, nervous, sad, anxious – are all normal and once at camp, our community will be there to support them. Katie can attest to the fact that after the initial settling-in period, camp feels like a second home and time flies by faster than we’d like!

Many people ask us what we do during a typical day at camp … and our answer is that “it depends”! Between June 11th and the 16th, we’ll be at our site in Vermont, along with our head counselors, Lauren and Dr. Dave, collaborating, sharing ideas, and going over expectations for the summer. This Senior Staff training is a great opportunity to come together as a larger Akeela team, to share best practices, and to make sure that there is consistent implementation of our greater camp goals at both of our sites. On June 16th, the Wisconsin Leadership Team packs up and heads to Appleton! The rest of the staff arrives on June 19th, and we spend that week training our counselors and preparing for campers’ arrival.

During a typical camp day, we spend as much time as possible on campus with our campers and staff (rather than in the camp office, which is why we rarely answer the phone during the camp season.) Our primary responsibility – and our favorite thing to do – is to make sure everyone at camp is safe and happy. One of the most wonderful aspects of our job is that we never know exactly what each day will bring; we make ourselves available to the people who need us most at any given moment. That includes those of you at home who have trusted us with the care of your children! You should expect to hear most often from your camper’s head counselor, who will call with updates and concerns, and will return your phone calls. However, you can always feel free to send us an email or call the office and ask to leave a message for Dave or Katie. We generally return parent phone calls in the evenings, after our campers are in bed.
We can’t wait to kick off the summer of 2017 and lay the foundation for many more years of community, friendship, growth, pride, and fun at Camp Akeela in Wisconsin!

Love,

Dave & Katie

Read the entire newsletter here!


Spring 2017 Newsletter

The latest newsletter, The Akeela Circular, is here!

Here is an excerpt from the newsletter, in which we describe what campers can expect from the first day of camp:

Dear Akeela Camper,
Summer is almost here and we hope you are excited about camp, even if you’re also feeling a little nervous about it. Many kids go away for part of the summer. Some visit family, some go on teen travel or community service programs, and some go to sleep-away camps. Almost everybody worries about how they will like a place that’s new to them. It’s OK to feel that way and we’re
here to help make your transition to camp as easy and smooth as possible. We think that one way to do that is to help you know what to expect…
If you’re taking one of the camp buses to camp, you and your parents will meet some of our counselors at the bus pick-up location. They will be there to welcome you and to introduce you to other campers. They will help you find a seat on the bus with a new friend and will be there to answer any questions you might have. The travel time from NY is approximately 5 hours and the time from Boston is approximately 2.5 hours. You will bring lunch on the bus and there are bathrooms on both buses!
Those of you flying to Boston on Opening Day will be met at the airport by Akeela staff members. They will be there to greet you and to introduce you to other campers who have also flown in! You and your new friends will be driven by our staff in a camp van directly to camp. It will take approximately 2.5 hours to get to Akeela. If your parents are driving you to camp, you will be dropped off at 1:30. Your counselors will be there to meet you at your car and help you carry any last-minute items you have brought with you that day. You, your parents, and counselors will go to your cabin, where you’ll see all of your belongings have been unpacked and organized for you so you can easily find your bed. You’ll then say goodbye to your family and begin your camp adventure!
Regardless of how you get to camp, here’s what you can expect to happen the rest of that first day:
•You will have a chance to see what camp looks like and enjoy some planned activities with your bunkmates. You might take a tour, play some games, or jump on the jumping pillow.
•You’ll also meet our nurses so that they can give you a quick “health check” to make sure you’re healthy!
•Our great Chef, Catarina, will give you a small preview of her culinary expertise and provide a delicious snack for you and your new friends to enjoy.
•There will be some time after everyone arrives for each bunk to start spending some time together before we meet for dinner. This is a great time to get to know your bunkmates and counselors, and talk about “bunk expectations,” so you know what to expect from each other.
•We will all have dinner and Evening Meeting together as a community. You’ll eat dinner with your cabin, just like you will for all your meals at camp! Evening Meeting will be at the amphitheatre and you’ll get to hear from Eric and Debbie, and have a chance to make announcements about the new friends you’ve already made!
•Then it will be time for our opening campfire and evening snack. We’ll sing songs and do skits as a community by the fire. It’s one of our favorite parts of camp!
•Before bedtime, you will preview the next day’s schedule and then Debbie or Eric and your Head Counselor will stop by to say good night. Before you know it, your first day will be over and we will all be getting ready for bed!
Many campers worry that they might be sad or homesick on the first night of camp. That is very normal. All of your counselors will be right in your bunk with you to help you. In addition to talking to them, you might want to look at photos from home, write a letter to your family or read a book. We know that after a short time, you will be having such a great time at Akeela, it will feel like your second
home.
We can’t wait to see you at camp. Many of you will be joining us for our Open House on June 4th. If you’re not able to attend Open House, you’ll be able to see photos of the event on the camp website. We’re so excited for an amazing summer at Camp Akeela. See
you soon!

Read the entire newsletter here


We’re A Midwest Camp!

As we approach the start of another camp season, we’ve been reflecting on what an exciting year this has been for us. Opening a second location of Camp Akeela has certainly been a lot of work, but it’s truly a labor of love. It is incredibly rewarding and fulfilling to be a part of our Vermont campers’ lives – and seeing the impact Akeela has on them and their families. The addition of Camp Akeela in Wisconsin means that we get to share the Akeela experience with even more children and teenagers.

One of our favorite parts of this past year is getting more familiar with the Midwest. Our year-round team consists of East and West Coasters (Debbie is from Philadelphia, Eric is from New York, Dave is from Vermont and Kevin is from California.) When we started Camp Akeela in 2007, we were already very familiar with New England: its camps, schools and population centers. Our first and most important task was to immerse ourselves in the Northeast’s communities of Asperger’s, NVLD, learning differences, and Autism Spectrum Disorders.

Now that we’re offering a shorter-session camp in Wisconsin, we are doing much of the same relationship building throughout the region, including Chicago and Detroit, Columbus and Cincinnati, Milwaukee and Madison, Minneapolis and St. Paul, and St. Louis. In addition to meeting many wonderful families, we’ve also gotten to know psychologists, educators, therapy providers, social skills groups leaders and other professionals. We love nothing more than connecting with like-minded people who adore “quirky” kids as much as we do!

This week is a particularly busy and fun-filled one for us. Dave Baker, one of our Midwest on-site directors, is currently attending the Autism Society of Wisconsin’s annual conference. If you’ll be in the Dells this week, please stop by to say hi to Dave at the conference exhibit hall! At the same time, Catricia Morris (a veteran counselor at our Vermont camp who will be helping to pioneer our Wisconsin location this summer) is attending the 22nd Annual Minnesota Autism Conference in Minneapolis. She will be in the exhibitor hall there and invites everyone at the conference to come meet her! Both Dave and Catricia are excited to see Temple Grandin, as she is a keynote speaker at both conferences.

On the afternoon of Saturday, April 29, Dave will also be hosting a Camp Akeela information session in Glencoe, Illinois. This is a chance for folks on the North Shore and elsewhere in the Chicago area to learn more about our camp. If you have a child or teenager who could benefit from expert social skills coaching in a fun, traditional camp environment, we invite you to attend this info-session. It’s low-key event at which campers and their parents can see lots of photos of Akeela, get a sense for a typical day at camp, and meet a director. For more information or details about how to join Dave on the North Shore on Saturday, please contact us at info@campakeela.com.


Tri State Camp Conference

 Tri State Camp ConferenceEach summer at camp, we consistently push our campers with Asperger’s Syndrome and High Function Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) to try new things and to be open to learn something new. It’s such an important part of camp for them to step out of their comfort zone and take a leap of faith with the support of their counselors. This is what camp is all about, and why we see so much growth in our campers each summer.

 

It’s only fair then, that we challenge ourselves to try new things, and continue growing as camp professionals, too! As with every year, for three days in March, we took some time to do just that at the Tri-State Camp Conference in New Jersey. Camps from around the country (and world!) assembled together for the largest camp conference in the world all with one common goal, challenging ourselves to keep learning and making camp better for today’s youth. Every year, we walk away from the conference with new found motivation to bring new ideas to camp, and to do everything we can to make camp better. It’s amazing to be surrounded by so many professionals with the same passion for growing their programs.

 

A few highlights from this year:

  • Susan Cain, author of Quiet, gave the opening keynote address about how to harness the power of introverted people at camp. It was very thought provoking and challenged us to think about how we encourage and support our introverted campers and staff members.
  • We got some great new ideas on how to continually support our amazing staff, and give them even more tools to help our campers with Asperger’s Syndrome and High Functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) make meaningful peer connections.
  • Our very own assistant director Kevin was a member of Program Committee for the conference, and helped bring in many of the awesome speakers who provoked our minds! He also took an American Camp Association (ACA) Standards course, to continue our accreditation with the ACA. Did you know Camp Akeela is ACA accredited and what that means? Check out what accreditation means for your family here http://www.acacamps.org/staff-professionals/accreditation-standards/accreditation/about-aca-accreditation.

We’re proud to be part of an industry that is always learning and growing, and love sharing that passion with our amazing campers!


Winter 2017 Newsletter

The Winter 2017 edition of our newsletter, The Camp Akeela Circular, is here! Check it out for advice about how to prepare for camp, an introduction to our program heads and Akeela Vermont’s new head chef, updates on Akeela in Wisconsin, wedding news, lists of returning campers and staff, and the latest alumni profile!

Here is a note from Debbie and Eric, featured on the newsletter’s first page:

This newsletter represents an exciting “first” for Camp Akeela because it’s the first to be distributed to members of our TWO camp communities: Akeela in Vermont and Akeela in Wisconsin. In many ways, we will be two separate camps this summer. As you look through this newsletter, you’ll find some distinctions between our Vermont and Wisconsin locations. The dates differ; some of the facilities and program news apply to one site or the other; the camper and staff updates now include the abbreviations VT or WI. Most importantly, both Akeela locations (and in fact each session at both sites) will be its own rich, vibrant community. Regardless of where or when campers attend, they will feel a deep sense of belonging and kinship with their fellow campers and our amazing staff.

As excited as we are about replicating the magic of Akeela in an entirely new part of the country, we’re equally aware of the ways in which we’re all part of the same camp family. This phenomenon was evident last month at our third annual Winter Weekend Reunion. Because the weekend combined campers from the two different Akeela Vermont sessions, not everyone knew one another before the reunion. We could imagine a weekend that felt like two separate groups sharing the same space. In reality, however, it was amazing how quickly they came together into one unit. With a baseline shared experience of knowing what it’s like to have spent time at Camp Akeela, new friendships were forged almost instantly. A year from now, when we have campers and families who have experienced Akeela both at different times and in different states, we are confident that we will all feel equally connected.

Read the complete Winter 2017 Newsletter here!


Winter Weekend Recap

Our third annual Winter Weekend was a big hit! All of us are incredibly proud of how our campers represented Akeela throughout the weekend. It was so great to see our campers (and staff!) reconnecting with each other, and also building relationships with new friends! Campers enjoyed some favorite camp activities like Human Scavenger Hunt and the famed “Daraoke,” showed off their bowling prowess at a local bowling alley, and showed true Akeela spirit by donating food and winter clothing to a local community center! We’re already thinking about next year and can’t wait to get back. Check out some images from the weekend below.


Autism Spectrum Camp Staff: Part 2

Welcome Back and a Happy New Year to all!!

Part 2 of Autism Spectrum Camp Staff : Click to read part 1 

Most recently, we joined our colleagues at our annual CampGroup retreat. Approximately 80 of us spent three days in Western Massachusetts, learning and laughing together. There were over 25 educational sessions on topics such as staff interviewing & training, customer service, communications policies, programs for older campers and of course our number one priority: the physical and emotional safety of everyone in our camp communities. Ironically (as representatives of CampGroup’s least competitive camp!), Kevin and Eric organized the first-ever CampGroup Color War, a series of silly competitions that brought a lot of spirit and camaraderie to the retreat.

The longest and most in-depth session at the CampGroup retreat addressed the topic of LGBTQ campers and staff. We were very lucky to be joined by Jeff Perrotti, the founding director of the Massachusetts Department of Education’s Safe Schools Program for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Questioning Students. Jeff led us through a fantastic workshop about a very important subject. We are passionately dedicated to making sure that camps are welcoming communities to everyone. While there is always more to learn, we feel great about Akeela’s leadership in this area. As a camp for “quirky” kids, Akeela was founded on the principal of warmly embracing those who don’t always feel fully accepted by others; we’re proud to see how that welcoming spirit has extended to people from all backgrounds.

As camp professionals, we believe firmly that there is always room for improvement and growth. To that end, we feel very lucky to have a large network of some of the best professionals in the field with whom we continually learn. We love sharing our expertise and experiences with others and appreciate that they do the same for us. As we teach our campers to be open to new experiences and to learning from their peers, we recognize that need in ourselves as well.


Happy Holidays from Camp Akeela!

Happy Holidays from all of us at Akeela! We’ve put together our annual camper slideshows and hope you enjoy watching them. We enjoyed a walk down memory lane while looking through these pictures from our fantastic summer in 2016. Campers, remember to reach out to your friends you see in the slideshow!

Session 1

Session 2


Holidays – Autism Spectrum

Is It Really “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year?”

Eric and I took our girls to see the “holiday spectacular” at the Comcast Center here in Philadelphia. It’s a really neat film that they project onto an enormous LED screen. The 15-minute show ends with a sing-a-long of “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year”. As we were walking away, Eric turned to me and asked, “Is it”? For many families, the holidays are not easy. In fact, they are the most STRESSFUL times of the year! Holidays can sometimes mean arguments with family members who are impatient or “stuck” in traditions that don’t work for every person in the family. It can mean sitting and waiting in airports or train stations and experiencing what even the most patient and “zen” person finds unbearable – changes in plans and being out of control. Sitting at long meals where conversations may be boring to some or insulting to others. Many of us experience these struggles but for families that include individuals on the Autism Spectrum or who struggle socially or who have NLD, these are even more difficult.

While we hope your holidays are filled with lots of yummy food, quiet and relaxing time with family and friends and reflection of the many gifts in your life, we know that may not always be possible. Here are some suggestions for how to increase the likelihood that everyone is set up for more success:

• Preview any schedule changes in advance (at least a few days) and give the members of your family a printed schedule/itinerary….with the warning that sometimes things like traffic or weather force us to change plans.

• Try to stick to your normal routine as much as possible leading up to the holiday. For example, even when school is closed for a few days or weeks, try to keep wake-up, bed-time, and meal-times as close to schedule as possible.

• Maintain normal school-week expectations when possible as well. (e.g.: limiting screen time, household responsibilities….etc.)

• Make sure your child will find something familiar to eat at the holiday meal so that he knows he is valued and won’t be hungry. (This may mean bringing along a container of his favorite food.)

• Bring along a favorite game so that your child can invite other family members/friends to join in activity she feels confident playing.

• Bring along an activity your child can do in solitude in case he needs some down time or just wants some time away from the larger crowd.

• Take some deep breaths, listen to music – do whatever makes you feel calm and at your best and try to be ok when things don’t turn out as planned….they never do!

Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!
-Debbie