Summer Activities for Teenagers with Asperger’s

For teens with learning differences and Asperger’s, this spring has unfortunately been a time of lost opportunities and missed experiences. Teens have missed graduations, proms, and many other social events as a result of COVID-19 spreading into our daily lives. Beyond Akeela campers will be missing the opportunity to share the Beyond Akeela experience with each other this year as we were forced to suspend our camp season due to the closure of our host site, Lawrence University, for the summer. While there has been a lot of a loss the past few months, we hope to provide ideas of summer activities to help make the next few months successful for your teen with Asperger’s.

Extracurricular Activities for Teens with Asperger’s this Summer

  1. Virtual College Open Houses – For families considering college, there are a lot of virtual opportunities to help your teen prepare for that transition. Many schools are hosting virtual open houses or tours. Take advantage of the opportunity to learn about these schools from the comfort of home!
  2. Virtual Transition Programs – There are many post-secondary schools offering virtual college transition programs that focus on helping teens develop skills for life after high school. These programs will provide structure and social opportunities for teens while promoting skills necessary for post-secondary success. Please reach out if you would like recommendations!
  3. Weekly Meal Prep – Encourage your teen with Asperger’s to be responsible for one or more meals a week at home. They should plan everything from grocery shopping, budgeting, to cooking the meal itself. Building this into the weekly routine will also create some good conversation topics around the house!
  4. Day Trip Planning – Everyone loves a good day trip to explore new places and see new sights. This a great summer activity for a teen with Asperger’s to practice their executive functioning skills. Encourage them to plan out the day, including all details like travel, sights to see, food, and whatever else is entailed with the trip.
  5. Family Getaways – Ready to get out of the house? Consider a safe and fun family vacation to Akeela’s Family Camp! A chance for your whole family to get out of the city and enjoy the fresh air of Vermont. Lots of structured social time and fun summer activities will surround your family!

Tips for Life at Home for Teens with ASD

We have all been thrust into a situation that no one expected or planned for and taking time to settle into our new routines. These are challenging times for many reasons for so many people, and the challenges of the major transition that we’re all facing right now can be magnified for teens with autism spectrum disorder. We are looking forward to being back at camp this summer where we know we can establish normalcy for ourselves and our campers. In the meantime, building routine and structure into the uncertainty that we are living in can help make life at home a better experience for all. Here is a sample day that you can use at home with your family and teens (of course, we understand that you will need to adapt this to meet the needs of your family, teen’s school, etc.):


7:30 – 8:00am – Wake Up & Morning Routine

  • Shower, brush teeth, change into clothes for the day, and make your bed!

8:30am – Breakfast

  • This is one of the meals that we find ourselves having “on-the-go” so often in life. We now have an opportunity to share meals together, talk about our plans for the day, and take a break from our usual hustle and bustle.

9:00am – Morning Activity 1

  • Pick a project for school and dedicate an hour to it. Our brains often work at their peak in the morning (Not true for you? We suggest you try coffee 🙂 … ), so use this time to dig into some school work.

10:30am – Morning Activity 2

  • Health &Wellness time! This is a great time to go for a walk, do an active activity in your home, go for a bike ride, or anything else you like to do to keep your body healthy.

11:30am – Free Time

  • Take some time to relax and do something you enjoy around the house.

12:00pm – Lunch

  • This is another nice time to come together with your family and check in with each other to see how everyone’s day is going. It’s great time to reset the day and see if anyone needs help with anything the rest of the day.

1:00pm – Afternoon Activity 1

  • Back to school work! Pick another project to focus on and dig into.

2:30pm – Afternoon Activity 2

  • If you have more school work to do, take a quick mental break before going on to another project. Otherwise, this is a great time to do some research into post-secondary options. Do some online research on some college and transition programs you are considering and take some notes to refer back to.

4:00pm – Snack

  • This is a great chance for YOU (teens, we’re talking to you!) to prepare a snack for yourself. What do you like to make for snacks?

5:00pm – Family Time & Dinner Prep

  • Take some time to do an activity with your family. It could be an ongoing project like a puzzle or strategy board game.
  • This is a great chance to practice cooking with your family and learn some new skills in the kitchen, too.

6:30pm – Dinner

  • Share something you were proud of during the day with your family, and set some goals for tomorrow.

7:30pm – Evening Activity

  • Take some time to relax, catch up with friends, and maybe take care of some basic household chores too (eg. laundry, cleaning your room)

Bedtime


We hope everyone is staying healthy and enjoying some time to be with family!

Kevin & Kristin


College Transition Program Preview: College Living Experience (CLE)

We had a chance to chat with Sandra Soriano, Director of Admissions & Outreach at College Living Experience’s Fort Lauderdale, FL campus. She answered some questions for us about how programs at CLE helps students transition to college.

A Transition Program for Asperger’s, ASD, and Learning Disabilities

How does CLE help students transition to life after high school?
College Living Experience (CLE) provides wraparound supports that are tailored to the student for a successful launch into independent adult life. Our supports are in the domains of social, independent living skills, which includes financial, academic, and career with executive functioning skills spread throughout each domain. On average our students receive between 20-30 hours of one-on-one support in addition to group activities.

How do we scale our supports?
When the student shows progress in an area, we gradually pull back supports as needed. Think of it like learning to ride a bike. We start with training wheels and tweak as needed. As they learn and gain confidence, we pull back and take off the training wheels. If they fall, we teach them how to get up. We don’t pick them up. We remind students that being independent doesn’t mean you never need help, it means you know when and who to ask for help.

Why do you think high school students choose to attend CLE?
CLE students are surrounded by like-minded individuals and they know they are not alone. They get the support they need with the independence they crave.

Social Life at College Living Experience

What type of social activities and support systems are available to students at CLE?
Our activities are led by the students and advisors. We have table top game nights, restaurant outings, cooking nights, bowling, events, and the list goes on from there. During one on one support we often role play and talk through situations the student may be facing. We help our students understand healthy relationships, safety concerns, and how to navigate today’s social world.

How long do students typically stay in the program, and what do they typically do after their time at CLE?
The average student stays approximately 2 years but it truly depends on the student. Many of our students attend a community college and later transfer to a four year college. Some of our students are attending technical or trade school, traditional 4 year college, or starting on a career path. We help our students discover their path, and then provide them with the skills to pursue that path.

Our students often lack confidence, not capability. Once they gain experience they build their confidence, which reveals their capabilities. College Living Experience (CLE) realizes that families and caregivers need support as well during this time of transition. That’s why we partner with Parent Coach Professional to guide parents through their journey.

Like CLE, our passion at Beyond Akeela is helping young adults with Asperger’s, NLD or other social quirkiness reach their full potentials. Learn more about our summer college transition program, how we teach campers transitional and social skills, and apply for the upcoming session today!


College Transition Program Preview: Thames at Mitchell College

We love sharing resources with our camp families. This spring we’re hoping to share program previews from several programs Beyond Akeela teens have transitioned to in their post-secondary journey. First up is Thames at Mitchell College!

Transition Program Overview

Thames at Mitchell College helps students who are college able and working toward being college ready, transition to college full-time by providing them a GAP year experience on a college campus. With a bevy of well-rounded supports, both academic and residential, students learn to navigate college expectations with the guidance of highly trained professional staff. An Academic Advisor oversees their educational program, helping students with planning, self-advocacy, and receiving classroom accommodations. During the academic day, students have small class sizes, meetings with their Academic Advisor and tutors, and a centralized Thames building where they can complete work and utilize resources. A Resident Hall Director (RHD) helps students navigate the residential and social transition to college. RHDs help with roommates, living independently, and getting involved with campus activities and clubs. With both academic and residential support, Thames staff empowers their students to strive towards independence and success when moving onto full-time college students.

Students choose to attend Thames because of their wrap-around supports and the ability to experience being a member of a college community at a more gradual pace. Thames students eat in Mitchell’s dining hall, participate in Mitchell clubs and activities, and attend Mitchell events. Thames students are members of the Mitchell College community, and the community in itself is very accepting and welcoming to students from all paths. With nearly one-third of Mitchell College students identifying with a learning disability, supporting different learning types is simply part of the DNA of Mitchell College.

Thriving with a learning disability in college

The year spent at Thames at Mitchell College is truly a unique experience! Being located directly on a college campus allows enrolled students to experience college first-hand while being supported in the enhancement and continued development of the skills necessary for being a full-time college student. At the end of the Thames experience, students often emerge with newfound confidence, a meaningful group of friends, and the tools and strategies needed to be successful in a college environment.


Post-secondary programs for teens with Asperger’s / NLD

We speak with many parents each year about the next steps for their teens after high school. Many families have questions about finding the appropriate college fit for their student. With so many options available it can feel like a daunting task. Assessing your teen’s college readiness is such an important step in determining the best post-secondary options for him/her. In our previous mini seminar, we focused on preparation for post-secondary success for teens with Asperger’s or non-verbal learning differences (NLD). This blog focuses on the different types of post-secondary programs available to teens with autism and NLD.

“Traditional” four-year college/university or community college:

These programs are required to provide learning support through accommodations, not modifications. They provide support through a disability or student services center and each school has different requirements for accessing accommodations. Each student must advocate for these services themselves and most colleges only provide ASD/LD/NLD accommodations upon request.

Four-year college with built in ASD/LD support program:

Some programs are affiliated with a specific university and offer support services to matriculated students of the university. In most cases, students are required to be accepted into a specific university before applying separately into the ASD/LD support program. The level and type of support varies within each program, as does the amount of advocacy required of students.

Transitional support program:

These programs exist independently from a specific college and students take classes at local community our traditional four-year colleges and they provide similar support for social skills, independent living skills, and executive function for students with autism and NLD.

College/university designed specifically for students with LD/ASD:

These colleges have support structures in place that are specifically designed for students with learning differences or autism and work exclusively with those populations.

Gap year programs for students with LD/ASD/NLD:

Students who prefer to take a year away from the purely academic to focus on boosting their college readiness can opt for a gap year. This is becoming an increasingly popular option for all students, including those with LD/ASD.

None of these options are better than the other and not all are the appropriate fit for everyone. Finding the right fit for your student is paramount to their success. Here are some tips for finding the best fit for your teen:

  • Research programs early and often
  • Include your teen with Asperger’s or NLD in the conversation about their college readiness and their transition
  • Speak with your student’s school counselor or educational consultant

Akeela Mini-Seminar Series: Post-Secondary Transition Tips

We are so excited to start our Akeela Mini-Seminar Series! This will be a collection of videos that we put together throughout the year leading up to summer that will touch on variety of topics, from Asperger’s to NLD and transitions to independence to camp life! You can watch our first video below. We’ll always publish a related blog post to accompany the video. Thanks for tuning in!

Post-secondary transition

One thing that a lot of our families ask us about is how to prepare their teens for life after high school. We have worked with many teens with Asperger’s and NLD who have made the transition to college and heard stories of success and challenge. We want to share some tips and ideas of things you can start doing at home with your teen to help make their transition to college smoother.

Self-advocacy:

The most critical skill that helps teens be successful in their transition to college is self-advocacy. In middle school and high school, our campers often have many services provided for them through an IEP or 504 plan. When a teen makes their way into college, the required academic support goes out the window unless the student themselves advocates for it. Parents no longer have access to academic information, and professors more than likely won’t be responding to parent emails. So… what can you do now?

  • Include your teens in any academic support meetings they are welcome to join and encourage them to talk about their needs for themselves. It’s a lot more empowering to talk about the support you need than to have someone do it for you.
  • When there are problems to solve at home or when you’re out and your teen needs help with something, ask them to think about what they would do if you were not there. Give them a chance to problem solve and make a decision as opposed to giving them the answer.

Essentially, the goal is to give your teen more practice making decisions for themselves, so that when they HAVE to do that for themselves after high school, it feels a lot more natural and isn’t totally new for them.

Practice independence at home:

Giving teens opportunities to practice some basic independent living skills while they’re under your roof is very important. The sooner you feel comfortable starting to give your teen opportunities to practice these skills independently, the better. It’s OKAY to let your teens make mistakes when they practice these skills.

This goes for everything from morning and nighttime routines at home, cooking, going to the grocery store, managing laundry, and so on. Normalizing mistakes and celebrating successes are helpful strategies to keep your child feeling positively toward taking these steps toward their independence.

Executive functioning:

The last skill we want to focus on is executive function, which is an area many of our campers have challenges with. Executive function is the ability to plan and execute tasks. More specifically, the ability to take a complex task and break it into smaller simpler tasks and execute them. Many teens with Asperger’s or NLD have 504 or IEP plans that provide strategies to support executive functioning. Bring the tools and strategies that work in your teens academic setting into their home life. Have them practice those same strategies to stay organized in their routines at home!


#aspiepower – Greta Thunberg Uses Superpower to Push Back Against Critics

Now that another great season of college transition camp has come and gone, we’ve had some time to catch up on news around the world. Many of you have probably heard or read recent news about 16-year-old Greta Thunberg and her School Strike for the Climate movement. Greta has Asperger’s syndrome, and has become the public face of a youth climate change movement and has been met with both appreciation and praise, along with criticism and some harsh comments. After seeing some news about her swirling around social media outlets, we recently read an article from The Guardian that we wanted to share with our community:

Greta Thunberg Article

“When haters go after your looks and differences, it means they have nowhere left to go. And then you know you’re winning!” she wrote, using the hashtag #aspiepower.

While acknowledging that her diagnosis has limited her before, she said it “sometimes makes me a bit different from the norm” and she sees being different as a “superpower”.

One of the biggest challenges our campers have at home is maintaining a strong sense of confidence in who they are. It’s hard for any teen who is going through so many changes in their life to feel confident in themselves, and for teens with Asperger’s syndrome who are working on their social skills, that challenge gets magnified. On the horizon they also see their transition to college and the workforce, which can be daunting to think about. Our campers sometimes think and act differently than their neurotypical peers and are often met with unfair ridicule from peers who don’t understand how their brains work. For teens who struggle with social skills, having to navigate rejection from peers and adults is such a challenging task. Reading this article, it warmed our hearts to see Greta standing up in the face of insensitivity and rejection from adults and remaining confident in who she is, and what her passion is.

One of the more striking comments she had was that before she started the campaign last year, she had “no energy, no friends and [she] didn’t speak to anyone.” It’s amazing how a person can transform with a boost in confidence, no matter what sparks that. For Greta, it was following her passion and connecting with others through that passion. Akeela teens come to our college readiness camp and finally meet others who share and celebrate their interests with them, which is an experience many of them don’t have at home. That feeling of acceptance and confidence is what we hope all our campers feel when they leave camp each summer, and we love hearing the stories about their pursuits beyond camp!


Beyond Akeela Spring 2019 News!

The Beyond Akeela Circular Spring edition is here! For an introduction letter from Kristin, information about camp forms, parent communication, itinerary updates, and important reminders to get your family prepared for camp this summer, please read through this newsletter with your teen soon.

Beyond Akeela Spring News 2019


Beyond Akeela receives ACA National Award!

We are excited and honored to announce that Beyond Akeela has been recognized as a recipient of the Eleanor P. Eells Award for Program Excellence by the American Camp Association national office! Here’s an excerpt from the ACA’s website that explains what the Eleanor Eells Award represents:

Eleanor P. Eells Awards for Program Excellence are designed to honor camp programs that:

  • Develop effective, creative responses to the needs of people and/or societal problems using the camp environment,
  • Encourage continued development of such ideas,
  • Stimulate the exchange of creative ideas, and/or
  • Present to the public examples of positive contributions camp has made on the well being of individuals and society.

We hear from so many teens and parents that the challenging part of the transition to college is not keeping up with academic course load, but rather the ability of students to advocate for themselves, build meaningful connections, and stay organized. Beyond Akeela was designed to build those skill sets as our campers transition from high school to college and the workforce. At Beyond Akeela, teens practice self-advocacy, executive function, and practical independent living skills in a college environment, while having the support of their peers and a group of staff mentors to guide them along the way. Beyond Akeela campers are further immersed in a group of teens like themselves with whom they form incredible and life-long social connections with.

We are proud of the success so many Beyond Akeela teens have had as they transition to their post-secondary lives. Beyond Akeela started in 2011 with its roots at Camp Akeela in Vermont and has adapted over the years to best support our teens. We have truly learned from each summer and meeting and sharing with other transition programs, all of which has helped Beyond Akeela turn into the program it is today.

Click here for a full list of this year’s ACA award recipients


Asperger's summer tour

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.