May 2022 Newsletter

Read The Akeela Newsletter Here

The May 2022 edition of the Camp Akeela newsletter has arrived! In this issue:

  • Eric and Debbie outline the upcoming calendar and describe a typical day in the life of a camp director!
  • The first day of camp is described in detail, helping new campers know what to expect
  • We clarify the role of head counselor, and then introduce you to this year’s four amazing head counselors
  • Families are reminded about a few important items:
    • Shipping bags to camp
    • Required camp forms, which are now due
    • CampMeds, our pre-packaged and pre-dosed medication system
    • Ordering Akeela gear from The Camp Spot
  • You’ll meet the newest member of Nurse Amy’s family, who has a first name that may sound familiar!
  • A description of how we assign cabin counselors to age groups and bunks
  • A few words about Pen Pals … how we connect campers to bunkmates before camp even starts
  • Our annual list of where Akeela campers come from — a record 27 different states!
  • A quick explanation of the Launch-A-Thon, our exciting community service special event
  • A list of first-time Akeela campers coming this summer

Read the entire Akeela Newsletter here


March 2022 Newsletter

Read The Akeela Newsletter Here

The March 2022 edition of the Camp Akeela newsletter has arrived! In this issue:

  • Eric and Debbie share a few thoughts about how excited they are for this coming summer
  • Suggestions of specific things that campers can do between now and the summer to help them get ready for an amazing experience at Akeela
  • A “Parent Planner” to remind parents and guardians of what they have coming up in terms of preparation for camp
  • A wonderful piece written by Erin about how camp touches all of her senses
  • Important dates for upcoming camper Zoom gatherings
  • Vermont trivia, including the answer to last newsletter’s question
  • An enthusiastic welcome back and Q & A with Nurse Amy and her family
  • Lists of returning campers and returning staff members

Speaking of returning counselors, we invite you to follow us on Instagram and Facebook, where we will be introducing the community to the amazing new staff members that we’re bringing to Akeela this summer.

Read the entire Akeela Newsletter here


November 2021 Newsletter

Read The Akeela Newsletter Here

Dear Akeela Friends,

Thanksgiving is the perfect time to publish this newsletter because when we think about Akeela (which, let’s be honest, is ALL the time!), the word that comes to mind most readily is gratitude. Indeed, we have much to be thankful for.

In this newsletter, you’ll find news updates from campers and staff. Reading those updates reminded us what an incredible group of people come together each summer at camp.

We are also very thankful for the years that Ben Jerez spent with us at Akeela. Earlier this fall, we were very proud to see him accept the position of assistant director at a wonderful camp in Michigan. While we are very sad to see Ben leave, we are equally excited to welcome Erin Stewart to our team, as Akeela’s new assistant director! Erin starts next week but we already know that she is going to have a huge positive impact on Akeela. Read all about Erin in this edition of the Akeela newsletter.)

We feel so very lucky to be part of the Akeela community. We hope you feel the same way and that you’re also counting down the days until summer 2022!

Debbie & Eric

In this newsletter, you’ll find:

  • an introduction to Akeela’s new assistant director, Erin Stewart
  • lots of camper and staff news updates
  • a Vermont trivia question
  • a sneak peak at an exciting new program area for 2022

Read The Akeela Newsletter Here


Elon Musk’s Asperger Syndrome Announcement

Elon Musk AspergersPopular and news media tend to focus on the challenges that neurodiverse individuals face, but here at Camp Akeela we help campers with Aspergers Syndrome and Autism overcome social difficulties and embrace who they are so they can go out into the world and pursue their dreams! That’s why we find it so affirming to our campers when we can tell them about wildly successful people who are also, as we like to say, quirky. Elon Musk has entered the chat!

Elon Musk, the billionaire and founder of Tesla Motors, SpaceX, SolarCity and PayPal – and most recently, Dogecoin cryptocurrency advocate – announced last month, while hosting Saturday Night Live, that he had been diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome, which we hope will inspire neurodiverse teens to pursue their dreams. While not everyone desires to be an entrepreneur or billionaire businessman, our obvious takeaway is this – don’t let NVLDs hold you back!

As Dr. Matthew Siegel, VP of medical affairs at Maine Behavioral Healthcare in Portland said, when interviewed by WebMD, after the announcement:

“I think the thing that is exciting is that if Elon Musk is reporting he has autism — whether using an outdated term or not — is for the public to see a person lift the stigma about diagnoses like autism, by whatever name it is called. And people can see that individuals with autism, some, can be quite successful and part of our society.”

Last year we discussed Chris Rock’s similar announcement that he had been diagnosed with a non-verbal learning disorder. In addition to building confidence in our campers, we hope the growing list of successful neurodiverse people also helps remove the stigma created by how these diagnoses are often treated in popular media and the general lack of awareness and understanding. As Musk aid on SNL:

“Look, I know I sometimes say or post strange things, but that’s just how my brain works,” he said. “To anyone I’ve offended, I just want to say, I reinvented electric cars and I’m sending people to Mars in a rocket ship. Did you think I was also going to be a chill, normal dude?”

Ain’t that the truth! If you’ve followed Musk on social media, you know he’s certainly quirky, but when you look at what this man has achieved before the age of 50 – well, the results speak for themselves. And we love that Elon feels comfortable joking about what makes him unique – how boring would be it be if none of us ever did that?

While Elon didn’t dwell on the topic, we hope that younger readers of this blog will use this announcement as a source of encouragement and that the parents in our audience will share this and other success stories with their children, as we all try to find our way in this world.

Photo Credit:The Royal Society, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons


April 2021 News For Campers

Read The Camper Newsletter Here

It’s spring and that means that the camp season is just around the corner. We’ll be moving up to Akeela the first week of June so that we can get ready for our staff to arrive on June 12th. We can’t wait to get there, but most of all, we are counting down the days until we get to welcome all of our campers back to Akeela this summer!

This has been an unusual year, to say the least, and we really believe that camp is exactly what we all need right now. It will be a chance to re-connect with friends, face to face, while taking a little break from our technology and screens. Instead of playing games online, you can look forward to making new friends and talking about those games with other campers!

In this month’s camper-only newsletter, you’ll find:

  • advice about how to start preparing for your time at Camp Akeela
  • a preview of how we’ll introduce you to your bunkmates and counselors before camp starts
  • a reminder of what to expect from a typical day at Akeela
  • “Akeela 101”, a quick review of who is who at camp and some of the terminology we use at Akeela

Read The Camper Newsletter Here


February 2021 Newsletter and Upcoming Webinars

The February edition of our Akeela newsletter is here!

With cold weather and more snow than we’ve had in a number of years here in Philly, we are even MORE excited that camp is on the horizon! We cannot wait for June! Eric and Ben have been spending a great deal of time interviewing staff who have impressed us with their talents and passion. We’ve also rehired a number of former staff members who can’t wait to get back to Miller Pond. And, of course, we’ve loved catching up with all of you by phone, emails and on our virtual programs. Debbie has been busier than ever meeting and enrolling new campers who are so excited to join the Akeela community this summer.

Camp is happening and we’re ready for it!

Of course, we know many of you have questions about how camp will be different this summer due to COVID. This newsletter includes some answers to those questions. Hopefully, you’ve also visited our COVID web page, which is updated regularly.

You’ll also find information about a couple of very exciting upcoming webinars:

  • February 28, 2021: Helping My Neurodiverse Child Get Ready for Life’s Transitions (Including Going To Camp!), with Dr. Anthony Rostain and Dr. B Janet Hibbs, authors of The Stressed Years of Their Lives.   Register here for this FREE webinar.

Read the entire newsletter here.


December 2020 News – Happy Holidays!

It’s time for our December 2020 Newsletter!

This edition includes an excerpt from our blog post about setting limits and expectations at home, along with a link to a video of the webinar Debbie co-hosted on the same topic. Also included in the newsletter is camper & staff news and a collage of photos showing our community’s Akeela spirit on National Camp T-Shirt Day!

Debbie and Eric also want to wish everyone a very happy holidays …

We’re now in the final month of 2020 – a year many of us have found difficult. As the days get shorter and shorter, we’re reminded of the many spots of light that get us through darker times. Here at our home in Philadelphia, we have created new traditions – birthdays and holidays have become exciting landmarks in an otherwise empty calendar. Birthday decorations have become more important, afternoon walks around the neighborhood are now an opportunity to talk to other people, Zoom holidays with family and friends from all over the world are now the norm, and there has been a lot of baking going on in the kitchen. All of this family time isn’t always easy – our tween often tells us she just wants to be alone! At the same time, our 1st grader hates to be alone for more than a few minutes! We have watched a lot of movies on Netflix.

Yet we are reminded every day how lucky we are. We are especially grateful for our camp community. We spend every day thinking about being back together this summer in Vermont with our campers and staff. When we’re feeling low, we try to focus on a memory from Akeela: being together with friends at the campfire site, laughing on the slide at the lake, watching the talent show as a community. We know that even if camp looks a little different this summer, the feelings that Akeela gives all of us will be the same.

Our wish for all of you is that you take some time to find a light in all of this darkness, that you’re able to wrap yourself in a warm memory from camp, and that it brings you joy and peace. Please know that we’re thinking of all of you and are looking forward to the time when we can all gather together safely.

Here’s to 2021!

With love,
Debbie and Eric

Read the full newsletter here


Structure & Limits at Home

Last month, we had the pleasure of presenting a webinar with our colleague Elise Wulff from MGH Aspire in Boston. This was part of a webinar series offered by CampLauncher. The topic was the importance of setting limits and pushing our kids to take on challenges in an effort to raise children who are resilient. You can watch a video of the webinar using the link below. In the meantime, here are a few of Debbie’s thoughts on the topic.


As parents, our job is to keep our kids safe while also trying to shape them into decent human beings who will one day be able to be ok without us. It often feels like we’re going against our parental instincts to force our kids to struggle. We need to shift our notion of our roles as parents. Helping our children – particularly those diagnosed with Autism or Aspergers – work through the struggle is what enables them to grow up to be independent and resilient.

There is a great deal of research published about the importance of raising children who have grit. I encourage you to read anything by Angela Duckworth, and to watch her TED Talk about Grit. In fact, she spoke to us at the largest gathering of camp professionals a few years ago and Eric and I were struck by how naturally camp works on teaching these important skills to campers with ASD and NVLD.

Camps force children to step outside of their comfort zones. Especially for children with ASD or NVLD – sticking with what’s comfortable and familiar is a first choice. If we were to allow our children to keep doing what makes them feel safest, they might never learn what they’re capable of. They may never learn new skills, make new friends, try new foods!

Camp is an example of a way that many parents choose to push their children in a healthy way to develop grit. Sleeping in a new place, living with 10 or so other people, swimming in a lake with fish, eating foods that might be different colors, textures, smells! Climbing a rock wall, going on a hike, petting a goat – these seem like simple tasks for some people but for many children, some of these tasks seem impossible or – more often, just don’t seem necessary. But when we encourage children (any child) to do something they think they can’t or say they won’t do, and then they see that they can do it – we have just taught them that the leap of faith makes it worth it. Then – the more they do that thing or have the experience of trying something less preferred, they get better and better at it and they are more likely to do something totally new the next time it comes up.

So, while the push might be hard for us as parents – and it takes effort, we know – at the end, it will be worth it.


Watch A Recording Of The Webinar Now



November 2020 Newsletter

It’s time for the latest issue of Camp Akeela’s monthly newsletter! In this edition, we announce two exciting — and FREE — upcoming webinars for parents and professionals:

  1. October 29th: IEPs and Your Child’s Rights In the Time of COVID
    With education attorney (and Debbie’s best childhood camp friend!) Nicole Joseph.
    Register Here
  2. November 15th: Tools and Strategies for Setting Limits and Providing Structure at Home
    With Debbie & Eric Sasson and Elise Wulff from MHG Aspire
    Information and registration here

Also featured is a reprint of our recent blog post about Chris Rock. As you may know, he recently announced is diagnosis of NLD, aka NVLD. In the blog, we discuss the complex question of diagnoses. On one hand, labels can’t ever define who we are as individuals. Indeed, at Camp Akeela, we don’t ask in the application process, nor pay much attention to, whether or not our campers have any particular diagnoses. On the other hand, Chris Rock’s story demonstrates the ways in which receiving a diagnosis can, for some people, be a way of better understanding themselves and their place in the world. When they help us better accept our exceptional differences and/or connect us with a larger community of people with similar life experiences, labels can be a wonderful thing!

Also in Akeela’s November newsletter:

  • A schedule of upcoming virtual events for campers. Games Night is November 9th and Trivia Night is November 19th.
  • More “Good News” from Akeela campers and alumni.
  • November 10th is National Camp T-Shirt Day. Be prepared to put on your favorite Akeela swag and send us photos!

Read the entire November 2020 Newsletter here.


Chris Rock And NLD: Why His Diagnosis Matters

As most people have already heard, comedian Chris Rock shared that he was diagnosed with NVLD (Non-Verbal Learning Disorder) in September. All of the entertainment outlets – along with the TV show Rock was promoting, of course – shared the news with the world and found themselves having to teach the public what NLD actually is! It’s helpful when someone famous shares personal information with the public as it often has the effect of educating others. We’re thrilled that this often overlooked and misunderstood diagnosis is getting a bit more attention.

Camp Akeela specializes in young people who have Asperger’s and NLD (aka NVLD). When people see the term “Non Verbal Learning Disorder” on our website, they sometimes ask if that means that our campers are “nonverbal”, meaning unable to speak. In this regard, the name of the diagnosis could not be more misleading! In truth, and Chris Rock is now a very shining example of this, those with a diagnosis of NVLD (or NLD) are highly verbal. Our campers are incredibly bright and quite adept at oral communication.

Rock received his diagnosis after a friend wondered if Rock had Asperger’s; the two diagnoses overlap a great deal. Like individuals with a diagnosis of Asperger’s, those with NLD often find it challenging to initiate and/or maintain relationships with others. They may see the world in a more black and white or rigid way and many are not diagnosed earlier on in their childhoods because they are doing so well in their academic setting. All of this applies equally to many people who identify with the Asperger’s label, or a similar ASD or neurodiverse profile.

At Akeela, we frequently talk about labels being unimportant in almost all settings. To a great extent, labels are most useful in that they help kids and teens receive the services they need and deserve. Schools and insurance companies often look for the official diagnoses before approving those services. However, we’ve come to learn that there is another way in which labels and diagnoses can be important: Many of our campers tell us that having a professional tell them why they might be struggling socially can be life-changing and affirming. It gives them a language with which to better understand themselves and a community to which they belong.

I can only imagine how Mr. Rock felt when he got the diagnosis. In interviews, he alludes to a new sense of understanding and an ability to push himself in new ways, in an effort to learn and grow. As an example, he recently started to learn how to swim and he views diving into the deep end, even though it filled him with fear, as a great metaphor for his life today. If more people are aware of what it means to be living with the cluster of traits that make up NLD or Aspergers or autism spectrum disorders, then maybe they will have access to more support and will feel that they can dive into the deep end when they’re ready.

Speaking of perfect metaphors, there is no better first step off that diving board than going to sleepaway camp!