Autism Spectrum Camp Staff: Part 1

Autism Spectrum Camp Directors:

When we tell people that we’re summer camp directors, one of the most common responses is to ask us, “What do you do the rest of the year?” They often have a hard time believing that our 7-week summer camp translates into a more-than-full-time job for 5 of us! Blayne and his team work at camp to maintain and upgrade our beautiful camp facilities. Each year, he has at least one large construction project (e.g. new camper cabins, the Lodge, the camp office). And a variety of smaller maintenance tasks that keep them very busy!

Aspergers Camp Directors high standards & Planning

Meanwhile, Debbie, Eric, Kevin and Dave work in an office just outside Philadelphia. Together, we make sure that every summer at Akeela is the best it can be. That includes hiring the most incredible summer camp staff in the country – no small task given the size of our staff (over 100) and our extremely high standards (many inquiries and interviews for each available position). We also work hard to ensure that every camper who attends Akeela is a great fit. To that end, we spend many hours getting to know all prospective campers and their families. This include speaking with three non family members for each applicant. Of course, there is also a lot of planning that goes into the camp program. In contrast from the traditional camp activities to trips and special events. This year, program planning is even more intense as we’re launching Camp Akeela in Wisconsin and totally revamping Beyond Akeela!

ASD Summer Camp educator on our mission

Another large component of our off-season time is dedicated to professional development. Camp directors are first and foremost educators and child development specialists. We’re also HR directors, supervisors and leaders who get to train and inspire staff members to profoundly change lives of the children. Moreover, we manage complex operations on large properties with food service, water supplies, environmental responsibilities and a host of other factors. The more we learn and share in these areas, the better we can be at delivering our mission. Which is to provide our campers with the most incredible, life-changing summer experience on the planet. For that reason, all of us are actively engaged in attending, volunteering and even presenting at educational conferences organized by the American Camp Association (ACA).

Camp Akeela as a part of Camp Group

In addition to our involvement in the ACA, we are very fortunate to work closely with approximately fifteen other sets of camp directors. Most of these camps are in the Northeast: Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts and New York. A few are in the Midwest: Camp Akeela in Wisconsin and Lake of the Woods and Greenwoods Camps in Michigan. Together, we make up a family of camps called CampGroup. As an organization, we share core values of human development, excellence, building community and industry leadership. That manifests in a number of ways, including regular gatherings to support each others’ camps and share best practices.

Be sure to check back next week for part 2


Aspergers and Technology

Utilizing Modern Technology to Improve Self-Awareness and Self-Advocacy

I recently had the pleasure of attending a conference at Adelphi University on Long Island at which world renown clinical psychologist and Aspergers expert Dr. Tony Attwood presented on the topic of emotional regulation in children and early adolescents. Dr. Attwood covered a variety of topics from the psychological reaction to “being different” to having and dealing with various levels of anxiety.

Being a millennial who gets entranced by the all of the latest technology (have you seen the trailer for the Nintendo Switch?! It’s amazing! Check it out here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f5uik5fgIaI), the topic that he discussed that caught my eye the most was the use of modern technologies to help children more easily recognize when they feel upset.
The Fitbit is an amazing tool that can not only help children and adults keep track of their health, such as how many steps they are taking or calories they are burning in a day, but newer Fitbits and other “smart watches” also have built in heartrate monitors that are amazingly useful towards improving self-awareness. For many of our campers, it is difficult for them to tell when they are getting upset, and incidents usually come about without much warning. One of the first and most basic warning signs of someone getting upset is the increase in heartrate, and with a piece of technological assistance like this one, children can check their heartrate right on their wrist to see if it is higher than it normally should be. This may indicate that they are beginning to feel upset, and they can advocate for themselves that they proactively need time to cool down. After some time, children may be able to recognize other warning signs their body is giving them that are paired with the increased heartrate – increased muscle tension, hot feeling in the neck or face, clenching of the jaw, etc. – and this feeling could become more recognizable and in turn easier to prevent.
For parents, one of the benefits of this technology is that it often comes with a smartphone app that tracks the data. If a child’s Fitbit is linked to a parent’s smartphone, the parent can monitor what times of day they see a drastic spike in heartrate. If a child’s heartrate continuously spikes around noon, it is likely that the child has some anxiety about the lunch room, or if the heartrate spikes during third period math class, that child might have some underlying issue with math that they cannot or have not yet verbalized to a parent. There is a classic scenario of a parent asking their child how their day at school went, only to get the blunt response of, “It was good.” By using this technology parents may be able to be more attune to difficulties at school which will in turn make the child’s school experience more positive.

Dr. Attwood has been the keynote speaker at events around the world and he has authored or co-authored multiple books and articles about Aspergers. Visit http://www.tonyattwood.com.au/ for more information.


Transitions Home

As we look back on another amazing summer at Camp Akeela, we can’t help but think of the many success stories our campers gave us, and the incredible hard work the counselors shared with the community. We are so lucky to be surrounded by a wonderful group of campers and staff who bring energy and enthusiasm to camp every summer! The two months we spend at camp each summer are the best months of our year. As the camp saying goes, we live 10 for 2!

Returning home with the onset of fall reminds us of the difficulties we all have with the transition from our camp lives to home lives. We know that for our campers, this challenge is magnified. Coming back to the “real world” and a new school year after a summer of camp and family vacations can be a stressor for all of us. Thinking about the transition from summer to fall reminds us that this is very important time for us to support each other and, most importantly, our campers who struggle most with this change.

Here are some strategies we can all use to help with this transition:
-Keep in touch with other members of our community who are also going through this transition at the same time as you. Whether it be a bunkmate or other friend from camp, a parent you met on visiting day, or one of the Akeela Facebook groups, staying connected with others helps with the transition. Campers, remember to look at the Transition Report you went home with and keep in touch with your camp friends!

-Camp came with many successes for our campers. Look back on the 2016 summer and take pride in your accomplishments! Remember the positive and warm feelings you had when you made a new friend, accomplished a new goal, or challenged yourself to try something new. Think about how you can apply the new skills learned and confidence gained from the summer to your lives at home.

We hope your transition home and into the new school year has been going well so far, and that the spirit of Akeela will get us all through any challenging moments this year brings. As our camp song reminds us… “Seasons spin around again, ‘til summers here at last.”

Love,
Your Akeela Family


Spring 2016 Newsletter

Camp is just around the corner! We’re excited to make our way up to camp in just one month to start prepping camp and our wonderful staff for Opening Day. Below you’ll find the link to our latest newsletter, the Spring 2016 Akeela Circular! Inside the newsletter you’ll find a preview of what to expect on day one of camp, get updates on some of the new things happening at camp, meet our superstar leadership team, and other information for our camp friends. Be sure to check out some of the reminders about baggage, camp forms, and other logistical items, too.

Read the newsletter here:
Spring 2016 Akeela Circular


Winter 2016 Newsletter

The latest edition of our camp newsletter, The Akeela Circular, has arrived! This edition included recaps of Winter Weekend and Family Stay & Play. It also outlines some exciting new initiatives to help keep our camper and parent communities better connected throughout the year. Kevin announces this year’s winner of our staff Fantasy Football league, Blayne’s Bulletin announces a few exciting facilities updates, and of course there are other important news items and reminders for our camp friends.

Read the newsletter here:
Winter 2016 Akeela Circular

Don’t forget to also check out the
Summer 2015 Camper Slideshows!


2015 Camp Slideshows Are Here!

Happy New Year everyone! We’ve put together our annual slideshows from our 2015 summer sessions to remember the great moments we shared with each other at camp. Campers, remember to reach out to your friends you see in the slideshow to catch up!

Session 1

2015 Camp Slideshows Session 1

Session 2

2015 Camp Slideshows Session 2

Camp Prepares Kids for Job Success

The most recent issue of the American Camp Association’s Camping Magazine included a news item titled, “Five Soft Skills Needed for Job Success”. It referred to the following study published by Child Trends:

Key “Soft Skills” That Foster Youth Workforce Success: Toward a Consensus Across Fields (Laura H. Lippman, Renee Ryberg, Rachel Carney, Kristin A. Moore, 2015) *

Other educators are becoming increasingly aware of something that camp directors have known for generations: that “soft skills” are equally – if not MORE – important to a successful academic and professional careers as mastery of the more traditional school subjects. The Child Trends study referenced by Camping Magazine set out to more precisely define which skills are most closely correlated to positive workforce outcomes (including employment, on-the-job performance, wages and entrepreneurial success). Here are the top 5:

  • Social Skills – getting along with others, demonstrating respect, context-appropriate behavior and conflict resolution.
  • Communication – including oral, written, nonverbal and listening skills.
  • Higher-order thinking skills – problem-solving, critical thinking and decision making.
  • Self-control – delaying gratification, impulse control, paying attention, regulating emotions & behaviors.
  • Positive self-concept – self-confidence, self-awareness, sense of well-being & pride

(These, by the way, align closely with what the 21st Century Skills movement has identified as the all-important 4 Cs: Creativity, Critical Thinking, Collaboration and Communication.)

What’s most notable to us is that this are precisely the skills that we teach at Camp Akeela. In fact, we couldn’t come up with a more accurate list of our explicit goals for campers if we tried! We see every moment of each camp day – whether it’s a structured camp activity, a meal, or “hang-out” time in the cabins – as an opportunity for our amazing staff to help campers develop their skillset in each of these areas. Our immediate objective in doing so is to have campers leave camp more connected, happier, more self-aware and self-assured. The fact that we’re also preparing them for greater long-term success in school and in the workforce is a source of great pride for us.

— Debbie, Eric and Kevin

* You can find the summary of the Child Trends’ whitepaper here: http://www.childtrends.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/2015-24AWFCSoftSkillsExecSum.pdf


2016 Winter Weekend

After the amazing time our campers had last year during the first Winter Weekend, we’re excited to announce our second Winter Weekend will be taking place January 8 – 10, 2016. This year we’ll be hosting two events:

The Winter Weekend is for all 2015 Akeela and Family Camp campers, taking place at Camp Winadu in Pittsfield, MA. This is a wonderful opportunity for campers to spend a fun filled weekend with their camp friends!

The Family Stay & Play is open to all 2015 Akeela families, taking place at the Cranwell Resort and Spa in Lenox, MA. This is a great chance for you to (re)connect with other Akeela families at a world class resort! Families can choose to have their campers participate in the Winter Weekend as Day Campers, too!

Please visit the links for more information and registration instructions. Space is limited for both the Winter Weekend and Family Stay & Play.

We’re excited to see you all in January!


Technology: A Social Tool, But With Risks

This is an email we recently sent to parents of a few Akeela campers:

Hi! We hope you are well and enjoying fall.

We wanted to let you know that two concerned parents have informed us that there is a very large group text circulating among approximately 15 Akeela campers that contains some inappropriate comments – some of which are directed at other campers. Your child’s name was mentioned as someone who is a participant. We understand that kids have a great deal of access to electronics and that it is sometimes hard to manage – especially when they are older. However, we would like to offer the following suggestions:

1.) Please remind your camper that he/she signed a behavioral contract before he/she came to camp and that we expect those boundaries to continue to be upheld throughout the year – especially when other Akeela campers are involved.

2.) Talk to your child about the dangers of inappropriate content on the internet or by text and the consequences that are often associated when a child is the disseminator of that content (i.e. suspension or expulsion from school, consequences at home, police involvement if any child feels threatened or bullied.)

3.) You may want to check your child’s phone and text history and monitor the use of electronic devices until you feel confident that your child is responsibly texting.

4.) You may want to remove your child from this “Text chain”.

Please let us know if you have any further questions. We have not read the text thread and were not given a great deal of information but wanted to share what we did know with you so you can talk to your child individually.

Best,
Debbie & Eric

There’s no question that we live in challenging times. When we were kids, our distractions were books, television and the phone (attached to a cord in the kitchen!) These days, children not only have TV, they also have screens EVERYWHERE: phones, computers, tablets … and they are all portable. Our campers are typically very “tech savvy” and are drawn to electronics. Video games are an escape of choice and campers often tell us that’s how they choose to unwind. However, just because our campers enjoy screen time and might even benefit from some of the more social games they play, it does not mean that they don’t need to be closely monitored.

Our campers often struggle with social nuances – that’s why they are choosing Akeela for their summer camp. These challenges carry over to online settings, where it can be equally hard to understand appropriate social boundaries. Unfortunately, because their comments and behaviors are online, they have more permanence and can carry more weight. More and more frequently, schools and law enforcement agencies are holding young people accountable for their online conduct. We have had many conversations about such incidents with campers after receiving calls from concerned parents. We believe it is important to discuss specific expectations with your children about the use and content of texting, social media and emails – and to regularly check phones and email accounts to monitor their use. While we know that our campers always have the best intentions in mind, sometimes they need our guidance to communicate appropriately and effectively.


Fall 2015 Newsletter

Akeela 2015 is behind us and it was our best summer ever! This addition of the Akeela Circular, our camp newsletter, looks back on some highlights from this past summer and contains news about upcoming events. Read it all here:

Akeela Circular, Fall 2015