Teen summer transition program

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, but 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.

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, and 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, and this article certainly does a good job of explaining why that is!


Interdependence Quirky Teens

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.


College Transition Aspergers Teens

Self-Advocacy for Quirky Teens in College Transition

What is self-advocacy? There are many definitions out there, and we think it all boils down to being able to make independent decisions and to ask for resources that are needed for success. For a child or teen on the autism spectrum or with Asperger’s syndrome, this is a skill that is essential for successful independent living. For many students with ASD, their parents do most of the advocacy for them throughout their pre-college years. This includes advocating for their Individualized Education Program, helping them plan social events, and assisting with basic decision making around the house. Much of this is done out of necessity, as any young person would need help determining what type of individualized support they need for a successful education. It is important, though, for families to help their children become better advocates for themselves for their transition to life after high school.

Why is self-advocacy important for teens on the autism spectrum? When entering college or the workforce, college representatives and employers will no longer be responsive to parents of teens, because they are not required to. In some cases, there are legal reasons that a college cannot communicate with parents about services provided to a student on campus with ASD. Having the skill to share with student services or an employer what sort of accommodations are imperative to successfully navigating life in college or a new job. Many services and supports are given to our teens prior to entering their post-secondary lives. An understanding of how to advocate for similar services and make decisions in a more independent manner is a skill teens with autism should be working on from a young age to help with their transition to post-secondary life.

How do you teach self-advocacy? Practice makes perfect. The more opportunities a young person has to advocate for themselves, the more natural it becomes and the better at it they get. Allowing young people to have a say in their class or camp schedule, encouraging them to choose a restaurant for a family dinner… these are different examples of opportunities you can give teens with Asperger’s syndrome to help them practice self-advocacy. Some students might be better able to succeed in developing this skill if you start off by giving them choices. For example, “Between these three options of a movie to go see tonight, which one do YOU want to go see?” It is important that you set teens up for success in making these decisions, and provide them support as they make the decision, and after the consequences of the event have occurred.


Transition to College for Teens on Autism Spectrum

Teens on Autism Spectrum

I was recently referred to an article about the prevalence of mental health issues within the autism community. You can find a link to the article here: NPR Article. While I was struck, though not necessarily surprised, at the increased likelihood an individual on the autism spectrum will have a psychiatric diagnosis as compared with typically developing persons, I was also interested in the discussion about the transition from high school to college and beyond for teens on the autism spectrum.

Teens on Autism Spectrum

There are a whole new set of rules and obstacles that everyone learns and faces when entering college. We all are challenged to be more independent in many facets of our life, including navigating a new social space, maintaining basic living skills like cooking for ourselves, and balancing an often daunting workload from classes. As many of us know, this is a challenging transition for anyone to make regardless of a diagnosis they may or may not have. The difficulty of this transition to college is magnified for a teen on the autism spectrum. Learning new social rules requires more practice, and the obstacles faced can feel much larger than they might to a typically developing teen.

One of the quotes from that resonates with what we believe in here at camp is, “Youth on the autism spectrum may need repetitive modeling and experiences so that they get those skills down and become as independent as possible…” Our goal with Beyond Akeela is to give our teens on the autism spectrum as much exposure to these new experiences as we can. This gives them the space to practice these new skills in a safe environment, with the support of adult advisors and also their peers. Something as simple as navigating a relationship with an assigned roommate takes practice and Beyond Akeela, a college prep program for teens on the autism spectrum, gives them the space to practice that skill.

The transition to college for young people with autism is a challenging one, and as an organization we are happy to see articles like this one being written about transitions more often. We are also proud to be an organization that provides a place for teens to prepare for their transition to college in a safe and fun environment.


Wisconsin Teen Travel Tours

Wisconsin Teen Travel Tours

Beyond Akeela Teen Travel Tour moves to Wisconsin

The onset of Fall offers a time of reflection for us here in our home office away from camp. It gives us time to think back on the successes of the past summer, and also hear from our campers and their parents how we can continue to grow as a community. Our reflection on Beyond Akeela this year is especially important after our first year running the program in the Midwest. The transition program for teens with NVLD was a great success in year one, and we are so excited to get started planning the second summer in Wisconsin.

Here are some of the highlights from our first summer in Wisconsin:

College Readiness: We utilized resources of being on a college campus to help our teens prep for life in college. This included living on a college campus and activities with the health and wellness team, career center, and student services. All of these dynamic activities gave our teens a better glimpse of college life.

Chicago: Our campers had a chance to see much of the popular city in the Midwest! The group went on walking tours, spent time at various museums including the Shedd Aquarium, and got to view the whole city from the Sky Deck to close out their time in the city. Campers also took time to plan their activities in Chicago, and handled all logistics including their transportation and food. While enjoying a beautiful city, our teens with high functioning ASD also worked on their executive functioning skills.

Community Service: Our choice community service program was a huge hit! We were so impressed with our teens for jumping right into community service work and thriving in it. Community sponsors echoed how much of a pleasure it was to work with our groups. Beyond Akeela teens were given the choice to select a community service option that interested them, and committed to that service on four separate occasions. Not only was this a great way to give back to our community, but also an opportunity for quirky teens to practice their interpersonal skills in a workplace-like setting.

Ropes Course and White Water Rafting: Our adventure seekers got their adrenaline pumping on the high ropes course and our white water rafting excursion. Campers were encouraged to step out of their comfort zones, and walked away with a new sense of confidence and self-awareness.


Beyond Akeela Spring News

The Beyond Akeela Circular Spring edition is here! For staff bios, forms reminders, and other helpful information to get everyone in your family prepared for camp this summer, please read through this newsletter with your camper soon.

Beyond Akeela Spring Newsletter

Fondly,
Debbie, Eric, and Kevin


Autism Spectrum Disorder Transitions

Autism Spectrum Disorder Transitions“Transitions” is a buzz word we are hearing a lot of these days from parents and professionals in our community. Whether it be a transition into a new college or university, or into the workforce, transitions are hard for our teen campers! This is why we created the Beyond Akeela program, to help our teens with Asperger’s Syndrome and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) succeed in these transitions! Our teens are often provided services in their home lives, and those services fall to the wayside when they move on to their post-secondary lives.

Many of the skills necessary to succeed in new environments beyond high school are skills we explicitly work on with our quirky teens with Beyond Akeela:

Executive Functioning – Beyond Akeela provides real-world opportunities to work on planning and prioritizing, time management, organization, and task initiation. Teens are given the opportunity to develop their own itineraries and menus to take control of their experience at camp.

College Readiness – Teens live in a classic college living situation, and practice managing living with a roommate during their time at camp. They also get practice navigating a college campus and speak with student services to learn about support options upon entering a new college program.

Job Readiness – Meaningful and repeated community service opportunities create a work like environment with a consistent group of co-volunteers and supervisors. Beyond Akeela staff also facilitate discussions on job searching and interviewing. Teens have the chance to connect with career counselling professionals while with Beyond Akeela, as well.

Health & Wellness – Akeela staff members lead discussions about healthy living, including topics like nutrition, exercise, and mindfulness. Opportunities to use university health and wellness center are available to our teens.

Independent Living Skills – Teens will have the chance to cook for themselves, do their own laundry, and manage their own budgets as they travel throughout Wisconsin and Chicago.

Our recent move to Lawrence University in the Midwest gives us the opportunity to more effectively deliver on this curriculum than ever before. We are so excited for the summer ahead, and the chance to change the lives of the quirky teens of Beyond Akeela!


Teen Travel Program Wisconsin

Akeela Directors Describe Beyond Akeela Teen Travel Program

Teen Travel Program Wisconsin

We recently recorded a few short videos in which we share details about what teens can expect from the Beyond Akeela experience. The primary intended audience was campers who have already attended Camp Akeela. However, we think these videos will be helpful to anybody thinking about participating in Beyond Akeela.

LINK: Why Beyond Akeela Teen Travel Program?

Here’s a quick idea of what you’ll find on those videos …

What is Beyond Akeela?
It’s a great combination of a camp program, a teen tour, and a college prep experience! You’re first and foremost going to be part of a tight-knit camp community where you can expect to forge deep, meaningful friendships. Meanwhile, you’ll also practice post-secondary life skills through fun activities, and by traveling around the Midwest, including cities like Chicago and Madison, WI. Don’t worry, there aren’t any academic lessons that you’d find in a typical college prep program. This is still very much a camp experience!

Where will we stay?
Beyond Akeela has a home base at Lawrence University in Appleton, WI. You’ll live in the same dorm building as younger campers attending Camp Akeela, but in your own hall dedicated to you and your Beyond Akeela friends. Every camper shares a dorm room with another peer. It will really feel like living at college, except without any of the academic pressures of school. It’s really the best of both worlds: You get a camp experience filled with laughter, fun and friendship. At the same time, the city of Appleton and campus of Lawrence are great settings to practice post-secondary life skills in organic ways. Plus, it’s an ideal location for travelling to Lake Michigan, Chicago, and other nearby attractions.

What exactly will I do?
You can get a sense for a typical day and week at Beyond Akeela here:
LINK: Typical Experience at Beyond Akeela Teen Travel Program

You’ll eat meals with your friends every day. Breakfast will almost always be in the campus dining hall, which offers amazing food and tons of choices. After breakfast, you’ll start prepping for your day. A big part of Beyond Akeela is giving you a lot of independence and responsibility. For example, if the group is heading out of camp that day, you’re likely to have a choice about which destination you prefer. You might also help pack lunch or load the van for your trip.

Once the group is ready for the day, you’ll get started on your planned activities for the day. Those activities may be at camp, and they may also be outside of camp around Appleton. You’re also going to have a lot of choice with these activities. For example, community service is something you’ll do on multiple occasions with Beyond Akeela, AND you get to choose which service project you want to work on. Some of the activities you’ll do include: Camp choice activities, low and high ropes courses, health & wellness time, hike days, day trips to Lake Michigan and Madison, community service, scavenger hunts around Appleton among others.

Following afternoon activities, you’ll have some free time before dinner. During this time, you’ll have the opportunity to relax around the dorm. There is a nice lounge area that you and your friends can hang out in. You also can head to the campus health and wellness center for a quick workout if you want.

Dinner is an exciting time at Beyond Akeela because there will be days that you and your friends get to cook for the whole group! Of course, you’ll have lots of support from each other and staff members. You’ll plan out meals, grocery shop, and then prep the meals for the rest of the crew. In addition to being an important life skill, it’s a really nice feeling to cook and share meals with your friends! We won’t always cook of course. Some nights the group will eat at the campus dining hall and other evenings we’ll go out to eat at a local restaurant.

Evening activities will include nights out for things like bowling and a minor league baseball game. We’ll have relaxing choices like movie nights and game nights.
What about the trips?

You’ll also go on a couple different trips with Beyond Akeela. The first will be an Adventure Trip. You’ll spend a few nights under the stars camping and sharing stories around the campfire. S’mores galore. During the day, we’ll do some outdoor adventure activities like hiking, white water rafting, among others. You’ll also enjoy some more relaxing things like going to water parks.

The culminating trip of your Beyond Akeela experience will be what we call the “Big Trip”. You’ll make a couple stops on this trip. First stop is Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, a popular vacation destination in the Midwest. You’ll share a vacation home with your friends and your days will be spent exploring all that Lake Geneva has to offer. Days will follow a very similar structure to your time at camp. After Lake Geneva, you’ll head to Chicago for the last days of your trip! We’ll stay right downtown in a really nice private hostel called Hostelling International. You’ll share a private room with a few of your friends and a staff member. From aquariums and zoos to museums, walking tours of city and exploring with your friends, you’ll get to take in so much of the big city!

A large part of the Big Trip is that YOU and your peers are going to have your hands all over it. You’ll help plan out which activities the group does, how to get to different attractions, what you’ll eat when you’re there. You’re going to have a lot of control over the trip to make it the experience YOU want it to be.
Have more questions?

If you’d like to hear more about Beyond Akeela, don’t hesitate to call us any time: 866-680-4744. Thanks!


Autism Spectrum Disorder Transitions

College Readiness for Teens on the Autism Spectrum

College Readiness for Teens on the Autism Spectrum

Over the last few years, some of the first Akeela campers have made their way to universities around the country. When we talk with parents of these former campers, the one thing we hear most often is that the toughest part of college for their children is not the academic rigors, but rather the nuances of living independently on a college campus. Our campers often receive different types of support around social skills, executive functioning, and different post-secondary life skills before entering college. However, when they move on past high school, more often than not those supports they’ve grown accustom to are not as readily available, and must be sought out.

With the rise in awareness of autism spectrum disorder, we are now seeing a recent trend towards an uptick of these levels of support to students with autism. A recent article from the New York Times Along the Autism Spectrum, a Path Through Campus Life by Jan Hoffman speaks to the journey college students with autism travel through to succeed in college. Programs like the Kelly Autism Program profiled in this article at Western Kentucky University are becoming much more prevalent across the nation. Several of our campers have entered similar programs at different universities and thrived with the additional support the programs provide. These programs vary in the support they provide to students who enroll in them, ranging from providing social opportunities and peer mentors, to academic tutoring and time management support.

As professionals in the autism community, it makes us so happy to see more programs like these develop. Much of the reason we started Beyond Akeela in 2011 was to give our oldest campers the opportunity to continue building skills to help them succeed in their post-secondary lives, all within the support of our camp community. This is also a large part of the reason we decided to hold Beyond Akeela on a college campus going forward. The program helps campers with their college readiness by giving teens practice actually living on a college campus.

For those looking for more information about universities that offer these programs, check out our Parent Resources page.