Summer 2021 Reflection


All summers are memorable for their own reasons. They each bring a unique set of experiences and stories that are held sacred by the community members in those groups. For summer 2021, this especially holds true! Most everything about this past summer was new in some way shape or form, and it is absolutely one we are going to cherish memories from for a long time. We hope that the community of campers and staff are able to reflect back on the summer with fondness of the memories they created with one another. There is a lot we took away from the summer that we will keep near our hearts and minds as we move forward to 2022. Here are a few things that have climbed to the top of that list:

  • Resilience: Remember that time during the first session when a microburst happened right over Pearly Pond, closing entrances to camp and knocking out power across campus? We do too! What we remember most though is how resilient the entire community was through such a disruptive event. Teens, when you face challenges this coming school year, remember how you navigated that and other challenges at camp successfully.
  • Stepping Up: When given new responsibilities and freedoms, Beyond Akeela teens stepped up. Whether it was taking on a leadership role in a D&D campaign or community service group, or managing their laundry for the first time, Beyond Akeela teens took those on as growth opportunities. As a leadership team, we opened the door this summer for teens to take more responsibility and ownership over their experience, and they absolutely stepped up to the challenge!
  • Community: You’ve probably noticed we use this word a lot. There’s intentionality to it. We were amazed this year that after we doubled the size of camp, there was still the same sense of community teens and staff love. That is all a credit to the teens from last summer. Everyone came from different walks of life, yet remained excited about getting to know a new group of friends. Each camper helped create a warm and welcoming environment for their peers, which is what makes Beyond Akeela so great! We hope teens will reflect back on what helped make this summer’s community so special and find ways to recreate it at home and school.
  • Trying Something New: For virtually everyone at camp this summer, camper or staff, Beyond Akeela was a new experience for them. We also heard so many stories about teens trying new things at camp, whether it was new foods, performing in front of others, joining dance parties with people they met an hour before, and so many more. Taking these risks is what camp is all about, and where real personal development happens. What’s something new you’re going to try this year?

Everyone played a role in creating these points of reflection for us. While camp is only a three week experience together, there are so many moments that challenge everyone in the community to grow in ways that are unique to themselves. Like we have, we hope you’ll take some time to reflect on what camp meant to your family this year, and how the experience will create opportunities for growth in the current school year.

Warmly,
Kevin & Kristin


Elon Musk’s Aspergers Diagnosis Hasn’t Impeded His Success

Elon Musk

Beyond Akeela, as you know, is an intimate community summer program, designed by summer camp professionals who specialize in helping quirky kids to build social confidence as they transition to college and adulthood. But preparing campers for “the real world” isn’t just about helping them develop skills – we seek to inspire them to realize their limitless potential! We think today’s post about Elon Musk’s Asperger’s announcement is pretty darn inspiring.

When you hear the name “Elon Musk” you probably think of the high-end all electric Tesla automobile or Spacex rockets sending astronauts to the International Space station, or (more recently) his off-the-wall tweeting about cryptocurrencies like Dogecoin. There’s no doubt that this sometimes world’s richest man has his hands in a lot of pots – but did you know that he’s done and is doing it all despite having been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome? Neither did we… until recently!

While hosting Saturday Night Live back in May of this year, the billionaire tech entrepreneur unexpectedly revealed the fun fact about himself:

“I don’t always have a lot of intonation or variation in how I speak… which I’m told makes for great comedy,” he joked in his opening monologue. “I’m actually making history tonight as the first person with Asperger’s to host SNL.”

Some are quibbling over whether or not he’s really the first, but learning that someone on the spectrum is at the top of their game, of course, shouldn’t come as any surprise. We learned just last year that Chris Rock had been diagnosed with NVLD, and there are many people who believe that other tech leaders and world-renowned geniuses are among the ranks as well:

Musk, of course, is one of the world’s two richest people, and it’s probably no coincidence that he has Asperger’s and is a highly successful tech entrepreneur. Temple Grandin, who is famous for her autism and autism advocacy, believes that Albert Einstein and Steve Jobs had Asperger’s, and that the same is true of many of today’s tech icons, though she won’t name names while they are alive.

We’d like to think that all of our campers already know that their Aspergers, autism or NVLD shouldn’t hold them back in life – and in many ways, might benefit them – but we’re always thrilled to hear stories like this that help us further illustrate that fact. This of course doesn’t mean that everyone attending Beyond Akeela will go on to become an eccentric billionaire tech entrepreneur – but it does mean that there’s no reason they can’t!

Beyond Akeela truly believes that the sky is the limit for all of our campers and we our program can help them all realize their dreams. Please share this story with anyone you feel might be inspired by it and let us know if you’re interested in learning more about our college readiness Aspergers program.

Photo Credit:JD Lasica from Pleasanton, CA, US, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons


Screen Time for Neurodiverse Teens

We recently read this article with the intention of reflecting on our parenting style with our toddlers. (We have a lot to learn!). As many neurodiverse teens struggle with managing screen time, we wanted to share it with our community. The article focuses on the importance of developing “indistractable” teens, a critical 21st Century skill. While I’m not sure I agree with the choice of the term “indistractable,” some of the techniques and concepts the author explains resonate with how we like to do things at camp. We hope you find the article helpful in managing screen time for your family at home!

Stanford psychology expert: This is the No. 1 skill parents need to teach their kids—but most don’t
*Please forgive the clickbait-y title of the article!

Independent decision making

Independent decision making is a crucial life skill which applies to many facets of adulthood. Managing time, cooking meals, making and executing plans, for example, are all ways we implement independent decision making skills. This skill is developed over time and through practice. Allowing teens to be part of the decision making process for their screen time is a great way to practice this skill! Further, it is important to help them utilize systems and strategies to self-monitor their use. The author mentions the use of smart home technology, and there are other great timer tools to empower them with the responsibility of using.

Mistakes make perfect

We’ve all heard the phrase “practice makes perfect.” Practice is great, and we think mistakes that arise from practice are golden opportunities for growth! Once your teen has established a system for monitoring their screen time, let them trial it WITHOUT you. This is hard as a parent (we want our kids to be successful all the time!), but mistakes are an important part of the learning process. These lessons are better learned when teens create rules for themselves and take responsibility for them. This is a great way to let them learn from “natural consequences.” Natural consequences are directly related to an action taken by someone, as opposed to an arbitrary consequence that is unrelated to an action.

Self-determination

An underlying skill this article does not mention, but I believe is crucial to the author’s point, is self-determination. For teens to self-monitor their screen time, they must have some level of self-determination to do so. They must see the value in managing their screen time and be motivated to do so. Pending the age of your teen, we feel framing conversations around future goals is usually helpful in developing this self-determination. For college bound neurodiverse teens, this is a great opportunity to discuss how this practice translates to independently managing time in college. The conversations about self-determination and importance of monitoring screen time should be catered to the individual goals of your teen.


Do you have a neurodiverse teen preparing to transition into a post-secondary program or college? We’d love to chat and see how we can help!

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Why Neurodiverse Teens Should Take Risks

We talk with our families a lot about the concept of risk taking at camp, and why it is so important for neurodiverse teens. We were pleased to come across this article from the American Camp Association that helps outline the benefits of taking healthy risks. The Myth of Risk: Promoting Healthy Behavior by Challenging Teens. The article does a great job of outlining the positive outcomes teens get from engaging in healthy risks. We encourage any family considering sending their neurodiverse teen to a summer program to read this article.

What is a Healthy Risk?

Both professionally and socially, our lives are often filled with healthy risks. Reaching out to an old friend, going to a social gathering (before COVID!) with new people, or starting a new job, are all examples of healthy risks we take as adults. While they may not feel risky for many, they can feel like risks for neurodiverse teens.

At Beyond Akeela, healthy risks can take many different forms. For some teens coming to camp is a risk in-and-of itself. For others, it may be initiating a game during free time, going white water rafting, or sharing their thoughts in a group conversation about applying to college. Acknowledging a mistake and apologizing to rekindle a friendship is another risk teens take in camp settings. Camp is full of these opportunities and is set up to prepare teens for success when they take risks.

Why is it Important to Take Healthy Risks?

As teens develop, so does their penchant to engage in risks. They are exploring their independence and how they fit into society, and often take risks to that end. Encouraging healthy risks at this crucial developmental stage is helpful in preventing negative risk-taking behavior. When we support positive risk-taking and set teens up for success, they realize they are capable of more than they thought before.

Per the research in the article above, teens who engaged in positive risk-taking clearly had positive social-emotional outcomes. They felt happier, more optimistic, successful, and more responsible. At camp, we’ve seen all of these outcomes anecdotally. Neurodiverse campers develop more confidence, they are more likely to take another positive risk, and often show signs of being happier.

One of the final things the article mentions is the increased sense-of-self teens feel when they engage in healthy risks. We couldn’t agree more with this. This is what camp is all about! For some teens, especially those who have not been part of a community like Beyond Akeela before, taking risks at camp helps them recognize how valued they are by other campers. It helps them develop a strong sense of self-respect.


Do you have a neurodiverse teen preparing to transition into a post-secondary program or college? We’d love to chat and see how we can help!

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Navigating the College Search for Neurodiverse Teens

We were honored to share the expertise and experience of Colin Brady with the Beyond Akeela community through a free webinar. Colin is the Director of Student Success at Mitchell College, which includes his support of students in the Thames and Mystic programs. He is also a co-founder of the Middlebridge School and held the role of Director of Transition Services there. Colin has dedicated his career to supporting neurodiverse teens and young adults make successful transitions to college.

Keys to a successful post-secondary transition

In this presentation, Colin outlines some of the key factors to consider when planning your teens transition:

  • Self-awareness: One of the most important things families can do is engage their students in conversations about goals for after high school. It’s never too early to start! This leads to a stronger student understanding of their readiness and heightens their self-awareness. Self-awareness allows students to recognize when they need help, and feel confident advocating for their needs.
  • Social Outlets: Finding the right academic fit is important in the college search. Of equal importance is finding the right social fit for your student. When visiting and gathering information on schools, it is critical to consider the social environment your teen will enter. What kinds of clubs are there? How do students gather at the school? We wrote about the correlation between connectedness and college success in our previous blog if you’d like more information on the importance of finding the right social fit.
  • Transition Team: Developing a team around your student to help them navigate their transition to college is crucial. Team members can come from the student’s home, school, professional services, or anyone who knows your student well and is committed to their success. A good transition team brings different perspectives to your student’s readiness.

We hope you find this webinar informative, and encourage you to reach out should you have any questions.


Do you have a neurodiverse teen preparing to transition into a post-secondary program or college? We’d love to chat and see how we can help!

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Connectedness and College Success

I am reading a new book called Unapologetically Ambitious, by Shellye Archambeau, which describes her life story and career arc as one of the few black female CEO’s in the tech industry. She offers great life and career advice from experience and I highly recommend the book! (Full disclosure: she also happens to be the mother of my best friend.) I expected, and received, lots of great advice about strategic planning and integrating life and work. I did not expect, but found, a strong connection between Shellye’s advice and the work we do at Beyond Akeela. For instance, Shellye focuses on the relationship between connectedness and college success, which we know is especially important for teens with Asperger’s and NVLD.

Keys to College Success

Each fall season we speak with many families about their teens and their post-secondary options. There are A LOT of options out there and it can feel overwhelming to parse through it all. As families start this process, we offer families a few pieces of guidance:

Connectedness

As Shellye writes (and what we feel is MOST important for teens with Asperger’s), social connection breeds better outcomes. A common denominator in success stories we hear is the social connectedness teens feel to their community. In these stories, the students related to the people around them through shared experiences. They connect through club offerings, specific degree programs, or finding a neurodiverse population at the school. Teens achieve more success when they are immersed in a community of peers who share similar life experiences with them.

Self-Advocacy

The biggest difference between high school and college is how students access support. In high school, students have structured support in place through an IEP or 504, or family members. The help is often put directly in front of them. In a traditional college environment help is available, but students must seek it out. We encourage families to consider their teens motivation and ability to independently access help so they can choose a post-secondary program that provides their teen with an appropriate level of support.

Don’t Rush the Transition

Transitioning to college is hard— for anyone. In the first week alone, each student must learn a new schedule, meet hundreds of people, and navigate an unfamiliar (and more challenging) academic environment. For the most part, students are asked to do this independently and there are not many check-in points as they go along. This is a BIG ASK. Therefore, we often encourage families to consider gap year programs, college transition programs, or communities that offer auxiliary support. These options all help ease their student’s transition and ultimately make the college experience more successful.

As your family begins to search for an appropriate post-high school program, we encourage you to look through this list of college and transition programs Beyond Akeela campers have found success in through the years.

Warmly,
Kevin


Do you have a teen with NVLD or Asperger’s who is looking to transition into a post-secondary program or college? We’d love to chat and see how we can help!

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Chris Rock NVLD Diagnosis

With the plethora of news items about COVID-19, it is easy to miss good news these days. We recently came across some news about Chris Rock disclosing his NVLD diagnosis on The View. We are hopeful that this will continue to increase awareness for teens whose diagnosis is often missed and the limitless potential we always encourage our NVLD college transition campers to see in themselves.

What is NVLD (Non-verbal learning disorder)?

NVLD is a type of learning disorder that is not language based, but rather creates challenges in visual-spatial awareness, motor skills, and social skills. There are a lot of similarities in how NVLD and Asperger’s Syndrome present in individuals. For example, people with NVLD are often described as being very detail-oriented and thrive in the minutiae of problems. They have a harder time observing how each detail plays into the bigger picture. This often leads to challenges with executive functioning and master planning. The NVLD Project is a great resource for families and professionals looking for more information on NVLD.

How this helps NVLD teens ready to transition to college

A question many parents ask us is how to talk to their teen about living with Asperger’s or NVLD. One way is directing them to positive role models who share their diagnosis. Likewise, seeing this news can help college capable teens with NVLD and Asperger’s feel more confident that they are ready to transition to college. The more people like Chris Rock who share their NVLD or Asperger’s diagnosis, the more awareness and normalization it creates. Learning about a diagnosis can be hard for teens to navigate. The more individuals they can relate to, whether they be celebrities or peers in the community, the better. When teens can see successful individuals who share similar challenges with them it unlocks barriers to what they feel they can accomplish.


Do you have a teen with a recent NVLD or Asperger’s diagnosis who is looking to transition into a post-secondary program or college? We’d love to chat and see how we can help!

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The Fall Inflection Point

We often look at camp as a natural inflection point in our year as we move into the fall. We reflect on our successes and challenges from the previous summer, set goals for the upcoming off-season leading up to camp, and have a chance to start fresh. This year it is harder to feel this natural inflection point without running camp. Does anyone else feel that way too?

The past 6 months have been so surreal, the fall just does not feel quite like fall. Typically, at this time of year we are coming down off an adrenaline rush brought on by the excitement of summer. We always look forward to coming home from camp and seeing what has changed in our neighborhood since the spring. Unsurprisingly, not much changed this summer, and we certainly do not have that same post-adrenaline rush feeling upon returning home. Our natural inflection point was lost, but we are working on creating one on our own.

We found a silver lining in these challenging times for Beyond Akeela, as this summer gave us a chance to evaluate our program and get a head start developing new programming for 2021. We have developed a progressive program that meets the needs of teens as they get older and closer to their post-secondary lives, and opened our doors to campers who have completed their 10th grade year of high school! With the addition of sophomores into the community, high school teens can now be in the Beyond Akeela community for three years and experience new challenges, engaging activities, and increasing levels of independence in each year. Shifting our focus to summer 2021 and our new programming became our inflection point.

So how will you create your inflection point this fall? What goals do you have for this coming school year? Navigating this new social and academic environment is challenging, and sometimes it’s easy to focus on simply getting by. We have talked with families whose teens are picking up new outdoor hobbies, searching for part-time work, and challenging their teens to prepare more meals at home. They have created an inflection point by creating a goal to work toward and giving themselves something to look forward to, even if it feels simple.

Like you, we cannot wait until summer 2021 gets here, and our self-made inflection points will help us get there faster!

Warmly,
Kevin & Kristin

If you’re the parent of a teen with autism (ASD), Asperger’s, NVLD or who is often lovingly described as quirky, complete our brief Inquiry Form and reach out to our team today!

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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