Asperger’s Syndrome: Aspie Sleep

In addition to being the camp director of Camp Akeela, a three-week residential summer camp in Vermont and having a doctorate in clinical psychology, I am also a certified sleep consultant and the co-founder of Sleep Sisters! I think a great deal about children and sleep and have found it interesting to focus on children on the Autism spectrum, specifically those with Asperger’s Syndrome (AS). It is estimated that between 40 and 80% of all children on the spectrum suffer from sleep problems (falling asleep, staying asleep and early waking). Scientists are unsure exactly what causes such a high incidence of sleep challenges for kids on the Autism spectrum but we believe that a big part of the issues stem from struggles with integrating our often over-stimulating world.

Our observations from Camp Akeela, where most of our campers have a diagnosis of AS or NLD, are that kids on the spectrum have to work really hard all the time to maintain a level of “homeostasis” or feeling good. We often say that it’s as if our campers have to walk around the world on a daily basis performing their every-day tasks while simultaneously doing long division in their heads. Living in a “neuro-typical” world is hard work.  In order for them to be at their best, we have found that our campers need to be well-rested – more so than the typical child.

Aspie SleepHere are a few of our suggestions:

  • Like all children, those with AS need to exercise daily to stay healthy. In order to do this and get to sleep at a reasonable hour, kids should try to exercise at least 2-4 hours before trying to get to sleep.
  • Children with AS most likely require an extended amount of time to calm down and become sleepy. At least 30 to 45 minutes should be put aside in the child’s daily schedule to allow for this…which means that homework may need to get done earlier or saved for the morning.
  • Research shows that dim lights while getting ready for bed create an increase in melatonin (the “sleepy hormone” in our bodies). A light dimmer in the child’s room might be well-worth the investment.
  • Children on the spectrum need a great deal of predictability in their lives…bedtime routines are no exception. Children benefit from a “sleep rules” or “sleep schedule” chart in their room that is age appropriate and should include the evening schedule from showering/taking a bath, to dimming lights to putting on PJs to reading to turning off the light and going to sleep.
  • Children on the spectrum often struggle with sensory integration. Many of our campers have found the use of weighted blankets to be helpful. Others have preferred to sleep on the floor rather than a “squishy” mattress.
  • Although it feels counter-intuitive, many kids who are having trouble falling or staying asleep at night are often over-tired and require an earlier bedtime. It is not unheard of to have school-aged children on the spectrum in bed with the lights off between 7:30 and 8pm.
  • Many parents (and doctors) fall into the trap of quickly moving towards the use of synthetic melatonin (which is a naturally occurring hormone in our bodies that helps us feel sleepy). There have been a few studies that question the safety of ongoing, nightly use in children – especially adolescents. We believe that healthy sleep habits are a better place to start and may yield even better results!

BIO: Not only am I a mom to our daughters, Margo and Julia, but I also have my doctorate in clinical psychology. All of my sleep work is informed by my knowledge about brain development, emotional development and family relationships. I really believe that a couple’s relationship (if there are two parents in a family) is deeply affected when a new baby arrives…especially when she isn’t sleeping! As I work with families, I always keep in mind that the family dynamic is always in play and find that developing the right sleep plan can really help bolster the strength of the family relationship at such a critical time.


Akeela Wisconsin Spring Newsletter

The latest Camp Akeela (WI) newsletter, the Akeela Circular, is here!

This jam-packed newsletter includes a lot of important information for camp parents, introductions to a new senior staff member, details on communication from camp, and much more. Here’s a quick look at one article, What To Expect On 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 the bus to camp from the Chicago suburbs,, 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 to camp is about 3.5 hours, and you will bring lunch with you from home for the bus ride to camp.

Those of you flying to Chicago 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 3.5 hours to get to Akeela from the airport, too. If your parents are driving you to camp, you will be dropped off at between 1:00pm and 2:00pm. Your counselors will be there to meet you at your car and help you carry your luggage up to your room. You, your parents, and counselors will go to your dorm room, maybe meet some other bunkmates who have already arrived, and put your stuff down in your room. 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 campus looks like and enjoy some planned activities with your bunkmates. You might take a tour and play some games.
  • You’ll also meet our nurses so that they can give you a quick “health check” to make sure you’re healthy!
  • There will be some time after everyone arrives for each bunk group 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 bunkgroup at the same table, just like you will for all your meals at camp! Evening Meeting will be at the amphitheatre and you’ll get to hear from Dave and Katie, 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 Dave or Katie 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 the dorm 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’re so excited for an amazing summer at Camp Akeela. See you soon!

Check out the entire newsletter here!


Akeela Vermont Spring Newsletter

The latest Camp Akeela (VT) newsletter, the Akeela Circular, is here!

This jam-packed newsletter includes a lot of important information for camp parents, introductions to our amazing team of program heads, details on communication from camp, and much more. Here’s a quick look at one article, What To Expect On 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 2:00. 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 17th. (RSVP HERE) 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!

Check out the entire newsletter here!


Social Skills Camp Wisconsin

Social Skills Camp for Elementary and Middle School Children

Parents sometimes worry that their child is “too young” for sleepover camp. Sometimes, that’s true. Parents know their children best and usually sense when their child is ready for more independence. Often, parents need to take a step back and recognize their child’s strengths so that they can let go and allow their child to experience life more independently. As a camp director, of course I see the value in camp. But as a parent, it was hard for me to let go!

When our daughter was entering 3rd grade, Eric and I thought she was ready to experience camp on her own. She was showering nightly (with prompting from us), was able to express her feelings to trusted adults and enjoyed being active and outdoors. And although she had those necessary skills, I still worried about whether or not she was REALLY ready. I’m lucky to have a partner who pushes me to get through my own anxiety so that it doesn’t spill over into the lives of our daughters (not that often at least!) and so I was on-board when we chose a camp for our 8-year-old and sent her off for 3 weeks of sleepover camp.

Children in elementary school and Middle School are at a wonderful age to start a new camp. They are young enough that they will have years of camp ahead of them – that’s a lot of time to work on developing new skills, to practice being more independent and, most importantly, to build lasting friendships. For so many elementary school and middle school-aged children, camp can be the place where they feel most themselves, free to be unique and to take safe risks. This is particularly true for kids who struggle socially (including those with Asperger’s, NLD or on the autism spectrum). For our younger campers, camp allows them to do things on their own and to become more independent and to practice self-advocacy. Our Middle School age campers feel accepted and connected in ways that are often challenging at school.

Why wait? Starting camp at a younger age just means more opportunity to really absorb all that a camp community has to offer. Your child may be ready sooner than you think!


Want a Job At Google? Go To a Social Skills Summer Camp!

Google | Social Skills Summer CampFor generations of campers, summer camp has been teaching critical life skills. Camp has always been so much more than a recreational experience or simply a “fun” way to spend the summer. Are many camp activities recreational in nature? Sure. And is living in a cabin with a group of peers, supervised by attentive and passionate counselors, a lot of fun? It’s the best! That’s what makes camp such an incredibly unique and powerful educational setting: kids are learning without feeling like they’re learning. They’re having the time of their lives while ALSO growing in ways that will shape who they become as adults.

In recent years, camp professionals have been working to better articulate the value of the camp experience. This effort has coincided with a movement to introduce the concept of 21st Century Skills to the dialogue around the American education system. Other educators are coming to realize what camp directors have always known – but too rarely talked about: that “soft skills” like communication, collaboration, critical thinking, resilience, empathy and self-awareness are actually better indicators of academic and professional success than mastery of traditional academic subjects or even other intelligence measurements.

We recently came across an article in The Washington Post, titled “The surprising thing Google learned about its employees — and what it means for today’s students”. (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2017/12/20/the-surprising-thing-google-learned-about-its-employees-and-what-it-means-for-todays-students/) The article contains a post by Cathy N. Davidson, who summarizes the findings from two research projects conducted by Google: Project Oxygen in 2013 and Project Aristotle in 2017.
Ms. Davidson indicates that Google’s founders originally concentrated their hiring on candidates with great academic success in computer science and other “hard” skills. By 2013, they had enough employment data to analyze which specific talents correlated with the most success and best leadership at work. Here’s what they found:

Project Oxygen shocked everyone by concluding that, among the eight most important qualities of Google’s top employees, STEM expertise comes in dead last. The seven top characteristics of success at Google are all soft skills: being a good coach; communicating and listening well; possessing insights into others (including others different values and points of view); having empathy toward and being supportive of one’s colleagues; being a good critical thinker and problem solver; and being able to make connections across complex ideas.

That paragraph is striking to me because it so accurately describes the skills we teach at camp. We’re shooting a new promotional video for Akeela this summer. In preparation for that project, we’ve been working a lot on articulating a few key messages to potential camp families: What makes Akeela unique? What will a camper’s experience be like in our community? What can parents expect as a return on their investment in our camp? To that last question, I can hardly think of a better answer than what appears above.

The post goes on to discuss the results of Google’s 2017 research on teams, Project Aristotle:

Project Aristotle shows that the best teams at Google exhibit a range of soft skills: equality, generosity, curiosity toward the ideas of your teammates, empathy, and emotional intelligence. And topping the list: emotional safety. No bullying. To succeed, each and every team member must feel confident speaking up and making mistakes. They must know they are being heard.

By way of conclusion, Ms. Davidson says,

STEM skills are vital to the world we live in today, but technology alone, as Steve Jobs famously insisted, is not enough. We desperately need the expertise of those who are educated to the human, cultural, and social as well as the computational.

Here’s a list of the key concepts from those findings:

  • Communication and listening
  • theory of mind (perspective taking)
  • empathy and emotional intelligence
  • curiosity, critical thinking and problem solving
  • emotional intelligence
  • kindness, generosity and respect for others
  • confidence and the ability to learn from mistakes
  • belief in one’s own value and voice

The skills on that list are what camp is all about! Because we’re a camp that specializes in kids who need a little extra social support, we’re particularly intentional about building those life skills lessons into everything we do at Akeela. Our counselors know that they’re preparing children for a fulfilled and successful life … and it’s good to know that Google agrees!


Akeela Wisconsin Winter Newsletter

The latest Camp Akeela (WI) newsletter, the Akeela Circular, is here!

In this edition:

  • A letter from Dave and Katie, looking back on the foundation of Camp Akeela in Wisconsin and how much its grown since this time last year! Also, touching on some highlights from our camper reunion.
  • A checklist to help campers and parents prepare for camp, starting with some advice for this winter and taking you right through the weeks leading up to your arrival at camp.
  • A sneak peek into some of our new programming and optional off-campus trips we are offering this summer.
  • Information for parents about the ways we partner with them throughout the summer. We also share details about what to expect from our end-of-summer camper reports.
  • Introductions to some of our fantastic members of the senior staff. Check out their photos and bios, including their favorite camp food!
  • Lists of upcoming camper and staff birthdays, as well as which campers are coming back!
  • A can’t-miss profile of an impressive Akeela alumnus, Nolan D. He catches us up on what he’s been doing since his camper days, including his passion for working in the video game industry.

Read the newsletter here!


Akeela Vermont Winter Newsletter

The latest Camp Akeela (VT) newsletter, the Akeela Circular, is here!

In this edition:

  • A letter from Debbie and Eric, looking back on the Winter Weekend camper reunion and looking forward to our upcoming alumni reunion in honor of 10 years of Akeela!
  • A checklist to help campers and parents prepare for camp, starting with some advice for this winter and taking you right through the weeks leading up to your arrival at camp.
  • A little teaser about some exciting new programming we’re introducing this summer for our oldest campers. 9th and 10th grade teens have some great stuff to look forward to!
  • Kevin’s look back at another fantastic Winter Weekend, which was attended by 53 campers and 18 staff members.
  • Information for parents about the ways we partner with them throughout the summer. We also share details about what to expect from our end-of-summer camper reports.
  • Another Akeela wedding! David Leach and Amanda Perry tied the knot in Manchester, England earlier this winter.
  • Introductions to our incredible team of head counselors. Check out their photos and bios, including their favorite camp food!
  • Lists of upcoming birthdays, returning campers and returning staff.
  • The first edition of “Greg’s Gab”, which introduces our newest year-round staff member, Greg Walker. Greg, of course, isn’t new to Akeela – he’s been a camper favorite since arriving in the summer of 2012!
  • A can’t-miss profile of an impressive Akeela alumnus, Nolan D. He catches us up on what he’s been doing since his camper days, including his passion for working in the video game industry.

Read the newsletter here!


When Should You Hire a Lawyer in the Special Education Process?

This article was originally written by Nicole Joseph an attorney who practices special education law in Maryland.

As any parent whose child has a 504 plan or an IEP knows, sometimes the special education process can be frustrating, if not infuriating. Parents struggle to maintain positive relationships with school staff while also ensuring that their children are getting their needs met. Some school IEP “teams” are effective professionals with the child’s best interest at heart. If you have one of those, count your lucky stars and bake them some cookies! However, even these types of teams sometimes face limitations, like lack of staff or pressure from the district. “Good” team or ineffective team, children are entitled to a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) under the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA). Protecting your child’s right to FAPE can be exhausting and confusing. There may be times when you need some help. Consider hiring a special education attorney when:

  • The IEP team refuses to evaluate your child for a disability, or staff outside the IEP process tell you your child doesn’t need to be evaluated.
  • IEP Team says “we don’t do that” [in general]. Remember, this is an INDIVIDUAL education plan.
  • IEP Team says they don’t have the resources or funding to give your child what she needs.
  • Your child has an IEP but is not making progress in YOUR opinion. For example, a child with a learning disability is not making reading progress, or a child who needs social support isn’t getting services to address this issue or doesn’t seem to be improving.
  • Your child is suspended or expelled, ESPECIALLY if you believe the behavior was related to the disability in some way.
  • You are considering filing a state complaint under IDEA, or you are considering filing for due process.

Keep in mind that as you move through the special education process, and especially if there are active disagreements, the school team has access to, or is actively consulting with, the school system’s attorney. If you are considering steps that will get their lawyer or legal office involved (like contacting the director of special education or superintendent, filing for due process, or filing a complaint under IDEA), you should also have this benefit, since you can be sure that their lawyer will be reviewing everything you say or write.

How to hire a special education lawyer

If you decide to hire an attorney to help you through this process, be sure you are consulting with someone who practices special education law exclusively or at least primarily. There are certainly general practice attorneys who will be happy to get involved, but special education law is a highly specialized practice, and interacting with school systems is more effectively done by someone who is familiar with the players in your district. Ask any lawyer you are considering hiring what percentage of their practice is special education, how many special education cases they have handled, and what their familiarity is with your district.

A word about “advocates”
Hiring an “advocate” can be tricky, because there is no universal qualification or training process. Ask anyone you are thinking of working with to describe the specific and on-going training they have received, their level of experience, their relationship with your district and the point at which they would refer you to a professional educational consultant or attorney.
Hiring a special education consultant, meaning a trained special educator, psychologist, or another qualified professional to observe your child in school, review records, and make behavioral or educational recommendations, including possibly presenting those recommendations to the team, is often an effective, helpful step to ensuring both that your child gets what she needs and that you are confident that her best interest is paramount. Special education attorneys consult and work closely with educational consultants.

To locate a special education attorney, a good place to start is with Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, Inc.: http://www.copaa.org/. COPAA also holds an excellent, content-rich annual conference.

If you need low or no cost assistance, contact your state’s Protection and Advocacy agency: http://www.ndrn.org/ndrn-member-agencies.html.

Nicole Joseph is an attorney who practices special education law in Maryland. She can be reached at naj@nicolejosephlaw.com or www.nicolejosephlaw.com.


Winter Weekend 2018

Our fourth 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 took full advantage of the perfect winter weather with lots of sledding and snow play, 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.


Happy Holidays from Camp Akeela

Happy holidays from all of us here at Camp Akeela! We’re thinking of all our camp friends during this season, and can’t wait to be back at camp with you in 2018. We have posted the end of session slide shows from Vermont’s first and second session below so you can relive the magical moments of last summer with us. Wishing everyone a safe and happy rest of the holiday season!

Love,
Debbie, Eric, Dave, Greg, & Kevin

Vermont ’17 First Session

Vermont ’17 Second Session