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.


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.

NVLD Teen Transition Program

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.”

NVLD Teen Camp Midwest Community Service

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)