Asperger’s summer tour

Asperger’s summer tour: Summer 2018 Highlights – Beyond Akeela’s Travel

Beyond Akeela teens across the board loved traveling together for their last week of camp. Asperger’s summer travel tours have the opportunity to be transformative experience for teens that have challenges making social connections with peers. What makes Beyond Akeela’s travel opportunities different from other Asperger’s summer travel tours is the community we build BEFORE we travel. Two weeks are spent facilitating social connection through a variety of structured camp activities and some of what teens love: unstructured free time to just hang out with each other! Through these two weeks, which also include some travel like an overnight camping trip and day trips to Green Bay and Sheboygan, Beyond Akeela teens form friendships that last a lifetime and find their tribe. Having a group of friends that feels like a family makes traveling a much more fruitful experience. Here are some of the highlights from this summer’s travel:

  • Wisconsin Dells

Need we say more? The Waterpark Capital of the World never disappoints! An afternoon at Noah’s Ark waterpark followed by an evening exploring downtown Wisconsin Dells made for some happy teens this summer. It gave them a chance simply to be teens and hang out independently with their best camp friends.

  • Overnight Camping

A night under the stars, surrounded by the smell of campfire, campers singing their favorite camp songs, and of course, s’mores! That’s what camp and travel is all about. New friendships formed and old bonds continued to strengthen right in front of our eyes. A nice cherry on top was an awesome white water rafting trip!

  • Chicago

The Beyond Akeela trip ends in Chicago with a three night stay right in the downtown loop. Within walking distance to hot spots like the Chicago Cultural Center and Millennium Park, we had a chance to see the best of what Chicago has to offer. The favorites this summer were the Lincoln Park Zoo, Shedd Aquarium, Field Museum, and going sky-high at the SkyDeck for a 360 view overlooking the city we just explored together.

So why travel? Traveling gets you out of your comfort zone. It forces you to adapt to new settings, and quickly. Traveling challenges you to think on your feet, and think independently. When you travel with your best camp friends, this skill growth is magnified, and the bonds with your friends are strengthened more than you imagined possible. These are all valuable skills that teens with Asperger’s syndrome are working on, and we love seeing the development of them right before our eyes every summer.


NVLD Teen Transition Program

NVLD Teen Transition Program: Summer Highlights 2018 College Readiness

Many families ask us how camp prepares 11th and 12th graders for college. Why not get a job? Or go to a summer program that focuses on academics? These are valid questions, as both of those summer options will no doubt help prepare teens for college. What camp provides to teens social confidence, executive function and self-advocacy support, and practice living on a college campus. Beyond Akeela, and NVLD teen camp in the Midwest, is intentionally designed to focus on all three of these lofty goals.

  • Social Confidence

Many teens tell us that making and keeping friends at home isn’t always easy. The social pressure in high school can be a lot to handle, and being quirky can magnify those social challenges in a neuro-typical world. Creating a space where teens can find social success and be surrounded by peers similar to them breeds social confidence that didn’t exist before. One of the scariest parts of college is wondering, “Will I fit in there?” Beyond Akeela gives teens the confidence of having a socially successful experience and lifelong friends.

  • Executive Function & Self-Advocacy

In talking to many professionals in higher education, it’s clear that self-advocacy and executive function are two of the most essential skills for any college student to be successful. For students who learn differently especially, advocating for learning services in college and staying organized are imperative. At Beyond Akeela, a NVLD teen camp in the Midwest, we build these skills inherently through our camp schedule rather than a classroom setting.

  • College Living

An NVLD teen camp in the Midwest gives teens the chance to practice college living without the academic rigors of a full course load. Living with a roommate in a dorm and practicing skills. Like laundry and cooking give teens a sense of what living on a college campus will feel like. It creates comfort in an otherwise unfamiliar setting. Beyond Akeela campers often learn best by doing, by practicing a skill that may not otherwise come naturally to them.

Here is what our families had to say about their teens after a summer of Beyond Akeela:

“We definitely see greater signs of maturity and independence, which was one of our goals in sending him to Beyond Akeela.”

“Beyond Akeela has become an integral part of Thomas’s maturity. Thomas always mentions that this was one of the keys to his life moving forward in the right way. Now he is a freshman at a university, and we couldn’t be happier or more proud of him.”


Community Service

NVLD Teen Camp Midwest Summer 2018 highlights: Community Service

As a NVLD teen camp in the Midwest, community service is an essential part of the Beyond Akeela program. Teens have the opportunity to take on meaningful service projects that simulate real world job experience. They further get to CHOOSE the project they are interested in from a selection of organizations in the area. Here are a few highlights from the community service program this summer:

  • Appleton Public Library

Our more literarily inclined campers walked to the local library to volunteer their time and follow their passions. They had opportunities to see the inner workings of a major public library supporting a large metropolitan area in the Midwest and lend a helping hand in certain areas of need. Beyond Akeela volunteers shelved books, cleaned discs, and set up programs for children in the community!

  • YMCA Day Camps

Campers who want to work with children for a career had the opportunity to volunteer at the YMCA day camp for school aged children and the sports day camp. Beyond Akeela teens raved about how much fun they had being COUNSELORS for a change, and valued the experience as it related to their career aspirations.

  • Lawrence University Dining Hall

We were grateful to the dining hall team for allowing our campers to support their mission and gain some very valuable experience. For teens interested in the culinary world, they had a chance to see what it takes to make a large commercial kitchen run, and got their hands dirty with dishwashing and dining area set up. Further, they had a few opportunities to help with dessert prep for lunches.

The meaningful community service program was such a success for our teens this summer. They came back from each morning of work with smiles on their face. And they are energized from the sense of accomplishment they had. They bragged to each other how much work their group completed (in appropriate ways of course!). We can’t wait to continue creating these opportunities for our teens at Beyond Akeela. A NVLD teen camp in the Midwest.


Beyond Akeela Spring Newsletter

The Beyond Akeela Circular Spring edition is here! For an intro to Aaron Schultz (our Beyond Akeela Head Counselor), important information about camp forms, itinerary details, and other reminders to get everyone in your family prepared for camp this summer, please read through this newsletter with your camper soon.

Beyond Akeela Spring News (2018)


College Readiness for Teens with Asperger’s

Interested in learning more about Beyond Akeela? You’re in luck! We just posted our recent Beyond Akeela virtual information session. Beyond Akeela’s director, Kevin Trimble, and Akeela co-founder, Eric Sasson, walk the audience through the Beyond Akeela experience. Everything from the big picture philosophy of the program to a day in the life of camp is covered in the 40 minute presentation.

Here’s a brief synopsis:

Program Overview:

  • Beyond Akeela was born out of a summer camp program for younger teens that Eric and Debbie help create called Camp Akeela. That is a camp that specializes and is really intentional about helping young people with Asperger’s syndrome or NLD build and maintain friendships. Beyond Akeela takes the magic and intention from that camp environment to build a program that is appropriate for pre-college teens with Asperger’s or NLD.
  • Beyond Akeela blends elements of a traditional summer camp focused on social skills growth and community, a classic teen tour, and a summer college transition program with a focus on post-secondary options.

Location:

  • Beyond Akeela has a home base at Lawrence University in Appleton, WI. Lawrence is a small community oriented liberal arts college, and in their summer months they don’t have any students on campus for classes. It’s a great location to work on college transition and social skills for teens with Asperger’s and NLD in the summer.

Typical day:

  • Breakfast will always be in the campus dining hall. The food services team is great about providing options for all types of eaters at each meal. The dining hall publishes the menu in advance, so we always preview what’s available for each meal.
  • After breakfast, you’ll start prepping for your day. Beyond Akeela teens have more independence and responsibility in this part of their day.
  • AM Activities: see article on Beyond Akeela activities for more information o Lunch will be either at the campus dining hall, or sometimes when we travel or go out for the day, we’ll have a picnic lunch at a park.
  • We try to incorporate an afternoon rest hour into our schedule as much as we can. We know that rest, especially for teens, can be really important!
  • PM Activities: see article on Beyond Akeela activities for more information o Once we’ve gone through our activities for the day, it’s time for downtime around campus. Teens can make a quick trip to the health/wellness center for a workout, play a card game in the dorm lounge, or find another activity that helps them recharge.
  • Most of our meals will be in the campus dining hall as a large group. There will be a couple nights during camp when teens are responsible for cooking a meal with a small group of friends. There will also be nights when we go out to eat, as a way to celebrate our success at camp.
  • We’ll get together each night as a group and have a brief evening meeting. This is an important community gathering time for our group to reflect on our day together, celebrate and recognize each other’s achievements, and preview the upcoming days of camp.
  • We’ll wind down our day of camp with a fun evening activity.

Social Emotional Learning Outcomes for Teens with Learning Differences

I recently read an article from the American Camp Association about a research organization that is measuring the social emotional learning outcomes of summer camp programs. What interested me most in reading the article was not the research about how camp helps campers develop and practice social emotional learning skills, but one specific note in the article:

Research also tells us that effective learning environments are ones where kids have a sense of physical and emotional well-being, a strong sense of belonging, and are engaged — affectively (interest, fun, enthusiasm), behaviorally (active participation), and cognitively (reflecting, making choices, having opportunities to give input) (Conner & Pope, 2013; Osterman, 2000).

Teens with Learning DifferencesIn talking with parents and professionals about camp, the concept of being in a community where teens with learning differences or Asperger’s syndrome feel emotionally safe, understood, and have a sense of belonging, is one of the most important things we can provide to our campers. We truly believe in the power of finding your “tribe” as a tool to create better social emotional learning outcomes.

For teens with learning differences and Asperger’s, most of their year is spent trying to fit in communities that aren’t specifically designed for them. In school, they are given the benefit of a structured schedule, however they are among a group of teens who are more socially savvy than they are which creates an environment where they are constantly struggling to fit in. At home, they may have the benefit of being understood, but it is challenging to set up a really structured environment that our campers thrive in.

In addition, there are many college prep summer programs for teens that are soon to enter college. Many of these programs do a great job of teaching post-secondary life skills, study skills for college, vocational skills, and in some cases teens will walk away with college credit. Social activities may be included as part of the program, too. However, the structure of these activities and the peers may not be set up specifically for teens with learning differences and Asperger’s syndrome to thrive.

Insert Beyond Akeela. Beyond Akeela gives teens with learning differences and Asperger’s a community they feel a sense of ownership over and socially engaged in. There are two key components that make this happen.

  • Our experienced and well trained staff understands how to facilitate connections between campers and we boast a ratio of better than 1:3 staff to camper. This allows us to build relationships with each camper and individualize our approach to their social success at camp.
  • The group of campers that we bring together for the summer. Each camper comes to us fitting a similar profile, which is socially quirky teen who is academically successful, and needing additional support socially to thrive.

The socially engaging community we’ve created provides an avenue for us to foster positive social emotional learning outcomes, as well as outcomes related to post-secondary life skills, too. Our teens thrive when they know what to expect, know what is expected of them, and feel a true sense of belonging.


When Supporting Becomes Enabling for Teens with Learning Differences

I recently read an article called “See the Able, Do Not Enable,” written by a member of the Life Skills Department at the College Internship Program (CIP). So much of the article resonates with our beliefs on how to support our teens with learning differences. Growing up in a nurturing home and camp community can sometimes lead teens to ask for help before thinking about how they can solve the problem on hand. There are a few great takeaways from the article.

It’s important to remember the age of the teens we are working with. Are we helping them by responding to every request for assistance? If independence is the goal, then we have to use questions from our teens as teachable moments. As a parent or counselor, we have to remind ourselves to think about how each question can turn into a teaching opportunity. At Beyond Akeela, we train our staff to scaffold their involvement in these situations to help our teens practice independence. For example, a staff member may first respond to a call for help with a guided question to help the teen find the answer to their challenge. The next time a similar situation comes up, that staff member can refer back to the previous instance and challenge the camper to think of a solution independently. The goal is to give guided feedback to the campers and help them become a better self-advocate, while not holding their hand through the process.

Another challenge that comes with this is meeting our teens on their level. Everyone learns differently, a different paces and in different styles. Many campers at Beyond Akeela have learning challenges and may benefit from creativity in how we approach teaching them. Sometimes that means adjusting our expectations for progress in mastery of a new concept, and thinking about how important what we are trying to teach actually is.

This article really hits home the benefit of camp, because camp creates opportunities for learning and succeeding independently from parents or caregivers, while also having a safety net of advisors to prevent total failure. When a teen realizes they can have success in something independently, we have noticed it greatly increases the chances they will try something new independently in the future. The more we can create situations to help our campers with learning differences be successful in independent settings, the better!


Teens: Put your phone down!

I just read an article about the affect smartphones have on our emotional intelligence and mental health from the Atlantic ( Article link). I highly recommend looking through the article. It’s a long read and won’t leave you feeling warm and fuzzy. I feel it’s a really important read for parents and teens alike.

The overarching theme of the article is that the use of smartphones is causing more loneliness in teens and less face-to-face interaction. While teens in theory are more connected now more than ever because of their phones. They report feeling more left out too. They are finding it hard to connect with peers in person after their on screen interactions. There is obviously a huge disconnect in this case. The article also notes that the biggest effect is shown in teenage girls.

The exorbitant use of cell phones by teens is also resulting in less independent teenagers. That does not necessarily mean teens are spending more time with their families. But rather spending more time in their rooms connecting with others through their phones. Results of this include a drop in dating rates, and also a drop in driver’s licenses obtained by of age teenagers. Teens are not being set up for success in their adulthood through their phones.

Aspergers teen camp

The challenges smart phones present to the generation the author dubs, “iGen” are only magnified for teens on the autism spectrum or with a learning difference. These teens already struggle to navigate in-person social situations inherently, and their phones are not necessarily helping them long term. Limiting screen time is an important thing to consider for anyone. That can be especially true for teens with Asperger’s syndrome. While it may be a difficult task to remove a boy or girl addicted to their screen from that very thing. It is an important step to help them become happier and more independent people.

The Beyond Akeela teen summer transition program that works on post-secondary life skills places an emphasis on removing screens from the social experience of our teens. We tell our camp families and teens that it’s really hard to make a friend through a screen. This article certainly does a good job of explaining why that is!


Independence vs. Interdependence for Quirky Teens

The other night I had the pleasure of viewing a webinar led by a mother and her young adult son with Asperger’s syndrome about building independence for teens on the autism spectrum. The webinar was hosted by the Autism and Asperger’s Network (AANE), a great resource for families with teens with autism spectrum disorder. It was interesting to hear the journey of the young man from his elementary years to his adulthood and how he and his family worked on his independent living skills. Two of the major points the mother and her son made about building these skills were the importance of self-advocacy and the difference between independence and interdependence. As I recently wrote about the importance of self-advocacy, I thought I’d focus more of the independence vs. interdependence concept in this blog.

Much of the focus for teens on the autism spectrum is building independent living skills so they can live on their own after high school, whether that be in a college setting or in the “real world.” For people with Asperger’s syndrome who can be very black and white thinkers, the word independent can be mean something that we don’t intend for it to mean. For the specific young man hosting the webinar, independent meant fully independent. He became anxious thinking that he would have to do all these new learned skills on his own without any support. He didn’t realize that being independent does not mean that you cannot ask for support when needed. His mother made it clear that the word interdependent helped her son realize that he could still be an independent person while also asking for help when he needed it.

The discrepancy between independence and interdependence really struck me during the webinar. It made me think about my own life, along with all my peers, family, and colleagues, and realize that we are all interdependent, and not truly independent. We all seek out support during various times in our lives because we’re able to advocate for ourselves. This young man’s understanding that it’s okay to be interdependent allowed him to be a stronger self-advocate. which is quite possibly the most valuable skill young people with autism need to develop to have successful and independent adult lives.


Navigating College with Asperger’s Syndrome

For many teens with high functioning autism (formerly Asperger’s syndrome), getting into college is the easy part. Good grades are not often that challenging to come by and services are often provided as part of a 504 or IEP, as mandated by the school district. Enter college. The transition to college proves to be a trickier task to master for most students with Asperger’s or non-verbal learning differences. A recent article on NPR titled “Navigating life on campus when you’re on the autism spectrum” brought forth suggestions and sparked new ideas on how to make this transition successfully. Here are a couple notes that we took away:

1) Find your “Tribe”:
So much of finding our place in the world hinges on the ability to find a community of peers we can call our “tribe.” This is a group of people we can identify with, have similar personality traits to, and share similar interests with. Having this sense of identity and community can go a long to build confidence and lessen anxiety and depression that may accompany a young person on the autism spectrum in college. It can further lead to mentorship as we find someone who we can relate to and has similar life experiences to us. In this story, Elizabeth is able to provide insightful advice to James because she had gone through what James is navigating in his early college years.

2) Self-advocate:
This is evident in the article when Elizabeth discusses the teacher who helped her find a group to work with. This was an accommodation that Elizabeth advocated for because she knew that she’d need help with something like this. The better able we are to understand our own needs, the better we will be able to ask for help to support those needs. Understanding that we have challenges in certain areas is a good thing, as it allows other people in our communities to give us the support we need. This is an essential skill to practice to teens with Asperger’s syndrome.