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!
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!
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.
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.
From The Directors
Dear Camp Friends,
Throughout our nine unforgettable summers on Miller Pond we have seen so much growth, not only in our campers but in the size of our community, as well. We have watched our camp grow from approximately 40 to almost 120 campers per session. Likewise, the number of Akeela staff members has risen from less than 40 to more than 100. Over the years, we’ve added six new camper cabins, a golf driving range, the Lodge, a dining hall porch, gazebos and so much more. We are excited to announce that in the summer of 2017, our community is going to grow even more, with the opening of another Camp Akeela, in Wisconsin!
Don’t worry, nothing is going to change about the Camp Akeela that we all know and love in Vermont. We are just expanding west so that more boys and girls have an opportunity to grow in a loving and fun-filled summer camp community similar to what we have created together on Miller Pond. Debbie, Eric and Kevin will all continue to spend their summer in Vermont, while Dave and Katie Baker will be the On-Site Directors in Wisconsin.
Akeela Wisconsin will be located on the campus of Lawrence University in Appleton, which is about 40 minutes southwest of Green Bay, two hours north of Milwaukee, and three hours north of Chicago, IL. Despite being on a college campus, our Wisconsin camp is most definitely NOT an academic program! In three 2-week sessions, campers competing grades 3 – 10 will enjoy many of the same activities that our Vermont camp has to offer, including swimming, art, drama, music, cooking, tennis, team sports, LARPing, hiking, trips, and nature exploration. All of the camp traditions we have grown to love in Vermont – evening meeting, campfires, bunk songs & plaques, and special event days – will be equally integral to the experience at our new camp. We are going to bring as much of the magic of Vermont as we can to Wisconsin to create yet another incredible, life-changing summer experience for campers and staff!
We are so excited about this new adventure and invite you to follow all of its progress at the camp website, campakeela.com.
Debbie & Eric
Fall is here and that means that it’s time for our fall newsletter! This jam-packed edition of the Akeela Circular includes:
- News from the Directors
A letter from Debbie & Eric, addressing their excitement about the opening of Camp Akeela in Wisconsin!
- Blayne’s Bulletin
A site update from Blayne, including a very exciting photo of Bunk 4’s new porch! That’s not the only cabin getting a new porch, either. There’s also some news and a picture of a well-known building in camp being demolished. (It will be replaced before next summer!)
- Kev’s Korner
A note from assistant director Kevin Trimble, reflecting on the concept of growth, both personal and professional. He highlights how Akeela has been able to grow while staying true to who we are as a community.
- Wedding Bells
Thanks to Greg and Julia’s pre-camp engagement this past June, planning for Camp Akeela marriage number 6 is now underway.
- POISE-a-Thon Results
We are so proud of the Akeela campers for their participation in this past summer’s POISE-a-Thons. Between the two sessions, their enthusiastic efforts raised more than $18,000 for a great charitable cause!
- Winter Weekend & Parent Retreat Announcement
Information about the third annual Winter Weekend reunion in Western Massachusetts, in late January 2017. At the same time, we’ll be hosting a parent & family retreat at the Cranwell Resort in Lenox, MA.
- Camper and Staff Updates
Lots of news from campers and staff about what they’ve been up to this fall, which of their camp friends they’ve seen, and much more.
- Alumni Spotlight!
A new feature in which we catch up with a former camper. This time, a distinguished alumnus of Camp Akeela and Beyond Akeela shares some wisdom about his experience in college and how camp helped him prepare for it.
A list of upcoming camper and staff birthdays
Read it all here:
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.”
Your Akeela Family
We recently had the chance to attend the Center for Autism Research (CAR) conference called “Stepping into Adolescence” in Philadelphia. CAR is a leader in autism research in the greater Philadelphia area, and is affiliated with the Children’s Hospital of Pennsylvania. The conference was available to both parents of children on the autism spectrum and professionals in the community. It focused on children as they become adolescents, and how a child with autism’s experience with this transition differs from their typically developing peers. It was a great opportunity to connect with families of children on the spectrum and other professionals in our community.
One of our takeaways from the conference was how important it is for parents of children with autism to connect and share with each other. The challenges each family faces can feel isolating. When you’re able to develop a support network of people who are facing similar challenges, the feeling of isolation is mitigated. The resources the conference provided for families and the knowledge sharing amongst parents were phenomenal. With the increase in autism awareness nationwide, more and more universities and other organizations are doing research and providing resources for families. We have attended larger conferences in the Boston, New York, and New Jersey areas that seek to accomplish the same goals.
Asperger’s Family Camp Vermont
At Akeela, our Asperger’s Family Camp offers a chance for children and adults to connect with each other and share their best practices and experiences with each other. The results have been so powerful and moving. Some families are returning in August for their fifth summer of Akeela Asperger’s Family Camp!
We highly encourage everyone to seek out these opportunities to grow their own support network within the autism and Asperger’s communities!
Here are links to some of the great organizations we’ve connected with in various communities in the Northeast.
Boston and New England: AANE (www.aane.org)
New York area: AHANY (www.ahany.org)
New Jersey: ASPEN (www.aspennj.org)
Philadelphia: CAR (www.centerforautismresearch.org) and ASCEND (www.ascendgroup.org)
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
It seems that MINDFULNESS is the new “buzz word” these days. Even our first-grade daughter is learning mindfulness in school! As a therapist, I had a basic understanding of meditation and the scientific research that has demonstrated that a relaxed brain is a healthier brain and can also decrease stress and the impacts of stress on the body. On a cognitive level, meditation for children on the autism spectrum has always made sense to me. AND, I always felt that I couldn’t “do” it. My brain moved too fast and thoughts were always running through my mind. I couldn’t sit still for more than 5 minutes before I got bored and decided that meditation just wasn’t for me.
But over the course of many years, I kept hearing about MBSR (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction) programs taught at major hospitals and universities. Friends and colleagues kept mentioning the course to me and recommending that I give it a shot. And so, this year after giving the idea of Mindfulness some more thought and recognizing the benefits not just for myself but for our camp community and children on the Autism Spectrum too, I decided to give the program here at the University of Pennsylvania a try.
As I write, I’m about to enter week 7 of the 8-week program. And I have to say, learning about Mindfulness and starting a daily meditation “practice” has really changed the way I interact with the world around me and my own personal experience of myself. While I still feel frustrated, tense, anxious, angry at times, I’m better able to understand those experiences as just moments in time. This allows me not to get “stuck” and to be open to making a choice to feel differently. Is it easy? No. Finding 30 minutes to meditate every day (and doing that 3 times a day while we’re in the “boot camp” phase of the program) has been challenging. Stopping to breathe deeply when I’m feeling really stressed is also not easy. But the challenge has made it even more meaningful.
Because of my own growth, I’m excited to bring Mindfulness to our campers and staff this summer. I truly believe that we can help our campers feel more calm and able to manage their own struggles and hope that they can add Mindfulness to their “toolbox” of coping skills. I will be educating our Leadership Team and our staff about what mindfulness is and how it can change the way we all deal with stressful situations. We, as a staff, will learn how to use mindfulness in our daily interactions with our campers so that we are better able to help them achieve their goals. In addition, I will teach counselors how to use Mindfulness during morning meetings with their bunks and as part of the bedtime routine in an effort to help our campers unwind after a busy day at camp.
As always, our hope is to help our staff and our campers learn how to manage life’s challenges with greater ease and to find more joy in their lives. We believe Mindfulness for children on the Autism Spectrum is yet another tool we can use in this effort.