Girls on the Autism Spectrum

Girls Autism SpectrumWe speak with parents who have girls every day and they often tell us that people just “don’t get it”. Girls who are struggling socially present differently than boys. They are often masters at “small talk” and are not shy about introducing themselves to new people and chatting with acquaintances. However, as time passes, they struggle to get deeper into their relationships. They don’t understand the next steps. For other girls, their social enthusiasm can be a turn-off to peers as some girls insert themselves into social situations at inopportune times or in a way that seems “off topic” or “odd”. For this reason, girls are often underdiagnosed or misdiagnosed, leaving them without support for far too long.

I recently listened to an older Australian radio interview (http://www.abc.net.au/radio/programs/conversations/dr-tony-attwood-turns-his-focus-to-women-with-aspergers/7756374 ) with Dr. Tony Atwood – guru of all things Aspergers and an outstanding clinician and lecturer – about girls on the Spectrum. He pointed out that often times girls do not present as a “problem” until the social scene in school becomes more complicated. We hear about this frequently. All children – but girls especially – blend in with their peers at a young age. As kids get older, the discrepancy with their peers broadens and the struggles become more apparent. Dr. Atwood also mentioned that girls are often good “actors” and are better able to “play the role” that they may see on TV or in movies. After some time – even after school at home – “the exhaustion of wearing that mask catches up” to them and they begin to really struggle.

He stated that what is most important for girls on the spectrum is to BRING THEM TOGETHER so that they can be with other people who “speak the same language” and so they can relate to one another and recognize they are not alone. They will learn that “their suffering comes from the ignorance of others”, not from a flaw in themselves. When I heard him say this, I became emotional – this is why Eric and I are so passionate about what we do. We believe firmly that bringing the right group of children together each summer is what is so transformative. Allowing our campers to support each other and to share their own struggles is what makes Akeela so magical. Having Dr. Atwood confirm this is just the icing on the cake!


On Going to Camp with Asperger’s | Part 2

This blog was written by guest blogger and Camp Akeela alumna, Lara Lewis. We are so grateful to Lara for contributing this article!

 

You can view Lara’s blog here https://awetisticwriting.wordpress.com/

I attended Camp Akeela for three years, which is a large amount of time to compress into so many words. So for part 2, I wanted to write a sort of “Greatest Hits” summary – my favorite parts about being at camp, but also the parts that helped me grow in ways I didn’t expect, working my way up to the best of the best. To start off: chores.

I hear you on the other side of the screen. “Chores? How is that fun?” The chores themselves weren’t always. We were our own clean up crew; everything from sweeping to trash. The reason I list it is what I gained from it; namely that I actually learned how to do those things, with everyone’s responsibilities shifting regularly. It’s a skill you don’t realize you need until the moment you need it. Speaking as somebody who’s lived in a dorm by herself, you will need it.

Next on the list is a tie of two places – the Art Barn and the library. The library was a little uphill cabin full of books waiting to be cracked open, which was something I adored, and the Art Barn was basically a craft studio full of supplies for young artists, and art was something else I adored. It wasn’t just my luck, though; there seemed to be something for everybody, from sports to swimming to anything else you could expect a camp to have. I still have the little sun-catcher I made one year – it’s hanging in the window!

The best I saved for last – the community. I know, that’s cheesy, but it’s true. I was among my own; you don’t realize just how much you need people like you, who know how strange your experience can be, until you’ve found them. I was surrounded by other kids with sensory issues, with ticks and quirks, with passions like mine. There’s something valuable to be had in a space where you can find people like you. It taught me something I think every kid deserves to know: You are not alone.

For those who missed Part 1 Click here.


Teens and Technology

I just finished reading two articles about the impact of smartphones on our emotional wellbeing and our intelligence. Neither article was uplifting. The bottom line is that our constant use of our phones has caused us to feel more depressed, to sleep less, to interact with others less and to be more distracted. All of these factors are even more intense for teens who are using phones these days as a way to interact with peers.

An article in the Atlantic (https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2017/09/has-the-smartphone-destroyed-a-generation/534198/) highlights how much things have changed for teens since most parents were going through middle school and high school. The author reminds those of us who are GenXers of an adolescence marked by events like rushing to get our drivers licenses, an eagerness to have time with friends away from parents and dating. Teens now are much more likely to spend time alone in their rooms connecting with peers using social media. They use Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat. None of this is inherently bad – in fact, teens these days feel lucky that they don’t have to leave home to be with friends. The problem is that, although they are connected to peers, the author notes that teens report feeling “alone and distressed”. Teens report that they struggle to interact in person after being so used to screen interactions.

Most notable to me was the author’s findings that teens feel MORE left out these days. It’s obvious when a teen is not invited to a party when everyone on social media is posting photos of parties or gatherings from which they have been excluded. Girls, in particular, are masterful cyberbullies and it seems that teens feel more at liberty to be unkind when they don’t have to look their victim in the eyes. For young adults who are struggling socially, for those who have trouble navigating the complicated social world, who are feeling left out and different, social media is even more troublesome.

The author suggests that, although very difficult, parents should work hard to limit time teens spend on social media. (The other article I read in the WSJ – https://www.wsj.com/articles/how-smartphones-hijack-our-minds-1507307811, also suggests that even having a phone NEAR us decreases our ability to focus.) The more we can encourage young adults to spend time face-to-face with one another, participating in activities that DON’T involve screens, the more likely they will be to feel less depressed, to sleep better and to feel less alone. Camp seems like a great opportunity to practice this. Taking a break for a few weeks from screens can literally be life-changing.


asperger's summer camp

Akeela Vermont Fall Newsletter

The latest newsletter, the Akeela Circular, is here!

Here’s an excerpt, in which Debbie and Eric reflect about the camp’s 10 year anniversary:

In late August of 2007, we were given the opportunity to start our own camp. It was a dream come true – especially for Eric, who had been working in camping full-time for almost 10 years. We have such vivid memories (aided by some of Debbie’s photos) of our first walk-around on the property that would soon become Camp Akeela. We can laugh now about how nervous we both were, seeing how much work the site needed. Buildings were falling down, the dining hall was dark and dirty, and there were virtually no indoor gathering spaces. The beauty of a great partnership is that where one partner sees trouble, the other sees possibility and beauty. That has been true for us both professionally and personally. While Debbie cringed in fear that the site would never be ready in time to welcome campers in less than a year, Eric saw endless potential and his excitement was palpable. Thank goodness, because in those 9 months, Blayne and his crew literally moved buildings and earth, built a new health center, dug a pool, transformed the cabins and created our amazingly beautiful site.

We just finished our 10th summer at Akeela and we are so proud and honored to have been a part of the creation of such a special community. Over 1,000 campers have attended Akeela, 8 staff couples have gotten engaged or married after meeting at camp, and countless lifelong friendships have been forged. We are working on plans for an official 10-year reunion for our campers and staff and will let you know once we have a finalized date and itinerary.

Thank you for being a part of our community. We look forward to many more years of friendship.

Read the entire newsletter here.


On Going to Camp with Aspergers

This blog was written by guest blogger and Camp Akeela alumna, Lara Lewis. We are so grateful to Lara for contributing this article, and look forward to posting Part 2 soon!

You can view Lara’s blog here https://awetisticwriting.wordpress.com/

On Going to Camp with Aspergers (or My Camp Akeela Experience), Part 1
Lara Lewis

In 2009, I took my first steps into the world of Camp Akeela. It’s a Sleep-Away camp, but it was founded with “quirky” campers in mind – primarily those with social and learning disorders. I remember a large open field with two rows of cabins, one on either side. A big mess hall and a small sports field. A nature walk, a barn, and a lake.

I also remember being scared out of my mind. I had gone to a camp away from home the year before, and it had been a testing and tiring experience. The difference was that place was for kids in general – this was a place for kids like me.

Camp with Aspergers Summer Camp

I had never been around so many kids with conditions like mine. Looking back, I don’t think I’ve ever seen that many people like me in one place since. Sometimes it can be easy to forget there are other people with Asperger’s who are just out living, real people and not symptoms listed in a doctor’s book.

It was not easy to forget when I was at camp.

Being in the outdoors and living in cabins provided a whole host of issues – dirt, lack of temperature control, timed showers (five minutes each, and I’m still able to make that time today), and most of all living with other kids who had as much trouble reading social cues as I did. Communication was both simple and unclear – what was straightforward to me might have been vague to somebody else and vice versa.

But the thing I remember most, eight years later, is that we were experiencing them together. We were all “quirky” and we found a community, and it’s hard not to bond over getting sand in your shorts when you were all at the same fire pit. There’s something special to be had there, realizing you’re all going through the same thing, even if you experience it differently.

Part 2 Coming Soon!


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.


Social Skills Camp New England

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!


Social Skills Camp New England

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


Midwest asd camp

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!