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.

Teen Travel Program Wisconsin | Autistic Teen Travel Program Wisconsin

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.

Teen Summer Tour 2016

We are now in Portland, Maine. The campers are super excited to return to Camp Akeela tomorrow. Today we arrived at the University of New England in the afternoon, we then had a nice dinner out and then had ice cream in Old Orchard Beach. Attached are pictures from today and also from the Sunrise yesterday morning at Cadillac Mountain. 

Teenage Summer Tour
Summer teen tour Maine
Teenage Summer tour 2016
Teen Summer Tour 2016 chill
Teen Summer Tour 2016 lunch

Special Needs Teen Tour Traveler

At Beyond Akeela we love to help encourage our travelers to develop personal skills that will help them throughout their lives. At Beyond Akeela we love to help encourage our travelers to develop personal skills that will help them throughout their lives. We never lose focus of our goal which is to help foster a learning environment that is fun and teaches many life skills that will help grow the Special Needs Teen Tour traveler’s life. Our Teen Tours focus on things like Increasing amounts of independence and responsibility, Wilderness opportunities that help campers learn more about who they are and all that they are capable of, real-world practice of planning & prioritizing, time management, organization, flexibility, task initiation, involvement and ownership of their own experience. Beyond Akeela provides special needs teens the opportunity to get out of their normal area for the summer and explore the world around them. It will enable them to prepare for life after high school. Many special needs teens who have traveled with us on a Beyond Akeela teen travel program are heading to college or a post-secondary program and need the practice in order to start off their young adult life successfully. Beyond Akeela’s Special Needs Teen Tour Travel Program is a chance for teens to become more independent. They learn to be more flexible as they travel from place to place. They learn important life skills such as food preparation (including menu planning, making a shopping list, shopping in a grocery store and finally, cooking a meal), laundry, budget planning, and setting an alarm to attend a morning meeting. Perhaps one of the most important things that our Teen Tours provide to our traveler’s is the opportunity to meet other teens from all over the country who share similar interests and life experiences. Teens Travelers with Beyond Akeela make life-long friends and form connections that make them feel valued and part of a community.

ASD Teen Travel: Meet the Travel Staff

We’re excited to introduce you to the adults who will be leading our ASD teen travel and college prep program this summer. For starters, the Beyond Akeela travel Director is Nicholas Korn:

I am so excited to experience all the adventures and growth that ASD Teens will have this summer. A little bit about myself… I am currently an Inclusion Specialist at a middle school in Tucson, Arizona. I have been teaching for over four years now, and have worked in special education for almost ten years. In May of 2015, I received my Masters degree in Special Education with an emphasis in severe and multiple disabilities. I love what I do, and can’t wait to take this next step in my life.

Along with the young adults and advisors in Beyond Akeela, I will be experiencing new things and facing new challenges during this summer. I am so thrilled to be leading this trip this summer, and am counting the days until we get started.

((Learn more about Nick here)

Working with Nick will be three or four additional staff members. Here are a few words from some of them:

Chelsea Chapman –
I grew up in Springfield, Ohio with my mom, dad, and two younger siblings. As of May 2016 I will have completed a Bachelors of Science degree from Ohio University in Communication Sciences and Disorders. Last summer I completed a three month internship in Quito, Ecuador working with the United to Benefit Ecuadorian Children Foundation. The goal of this program was to get children enrolled in school and provide academic assistance to children in rural, under-served communities. In my free time I like taking long walks with my beloved Pomeranian puppy, Tuck, and reading books on the hammock in my backyard.

I am beyond excited to begin my first year with Beyond Akeela and look forward to meeting you all very soon!

Favorite Book: Wonder by R.J. Palacio
Place I’d Like to Visit: Spain

Mick Sibley –
I live in Columbus, Ohio where I’m finishing my final undergraduate semester studying psychology at The Ohio State University. I’m also currently in the process of applying to graduate programs in school counseling and developmental psychology. When not in class, I work at the Ohio State Child Care Center as a student aide in an inclusive environment with children from infancy through preschool. I recently spent a semester doing an internship in various Columbus public and private schools where I had the opportunity to work with a very diverse population of students. These experiences led me to pursue a position with Beyond Akeela. I’m excited to work with this wonderful group of people!

Prior to my college years, I spent six years working in the United States Air Force as an aircraft electrician and was stationed in Texas, Delaware, South Carolina, Georgia and Okinawa, Japan. In my spare time I enjoy cycling, hiking, traveling, learning photography, reading and spending time with my friends, family and dog, Daisy.

Favorite Book: The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan
Place I’d Like To Visit: Scotland

Jody Johnson –
I live in California and am currently working as a school nurse at Plumas Unified School District in Northern California. This has been my career for the past 25 years, and I worked with all ages from preschool to college students, along with special needs populations. Working at schools is great, as it also allows me to be a camp nurse during my summers! I’ve been a camp nurse for 12 years, three of which were with Camp Akeela!

I’m married to my wonderful husband, Elliott, and we have two adult children together. We enjoy hiking with our dog, Tilly, in the back country, biking, cross-country skiing, traveling, reading, quilting, and hanging with our four cats in front of the fireplace on a rainy day, including Baloo (a Camp Akeela alumni!).

Favorite Book: All the Light We Can Not See by Anthony Doerr
Place I’d Like to Visit: Croatia

Is Beyond Akeela a Teen Tour?

Autistic Teen Tour BostonWe started the Beyond Akeela program in 2011 and for its first three summers, it was quite different from the travel experience we’re offering now. At the time, participants lived at Akeela, our children’s summer camp in Vermont, for the full three and half week camp session (with the exception of a 5-day trip towards the end of the session.) It was kind of a hybrid between an oldest camper summer, a counselor-in-training program and post-secondary skills practice experience.

Beginning in 2014, based on lots of feedback from past participants, we transformed Beyond Akeela into a true travel program. It was clear that we could make the experience much more fun – and achieve our goals more directly – if we took Akeela “on the road!” It’s been a huge success and a really exciting thing to be a part of.

One question that I’ve been wrestling with since the moment we started talking about the “new” Beyond Akeela is whether or not to call it a Teen Tour. Frankly, it’s a term I’ve been avoiding as much as possible. On one hand, there is clearly a need for more teen travel programs that understand and accommodate kids who learn differently or need some extra social support. We’ve done lots of Google searching for terms like Special Needs Teen Tours and Asperger’s Teen Tour … and there’s not much out there! So, in a sense, I think Beyond Akeela is filling a much-needed niche for independent and smart, but “quirky”, young adults who don’t want to pile into a bus with 50 other teenagers with whom they don’t have a lot in common (not to mention lower staff-to-camper ratios and less attention paid to helping participants succeed socially.)

On the other hand, the term Teen Tour (even when combined with words like “quirky” or “autism spectrum” or “special needs”) connotes TO ME something far different from what’s happening on Beyond Akeela. I picture bus tours and flights to fantastic destinations with amusement parks and fancy hotels. Of course, I know that the best teen tour companies are also offering a variety of outdoor adventure and community service trips – and those are awesome opportunities for teenagers to learn, grow and give back. Yet, I still shy away from that association for Beyond Akeela. We also visit incredible places, do our share of sight-seeing, and even offer an option to visit an amusement park! However, all of that is wrapped in a very intentional focus on building friendships and preparing teens for life after high school. The Beyond Akeela staff uses each component of their itinerary to challenge participants in new ways. Sometimes that’s as simple as facilitating conversations while en route to a destination; other times is takes the form of game or challenge that builds executive functioning skills, money sense, health awareness, college choices, job readiness … and I could go on and on.

So is Beyond Akeela a teen tour? I’m working on being okay with calling it that … but I’m hoping that we can agree it’s much more than that, too!

Developing Teen Social Skills

Teen Social SkillsDeveloping Teen Social Skills is a very valuable and worthwhile investment. This is one of the many things that Beyond Akeela will do for your teen. Beyond Akeela’s Teenage Summer Camps helps to insure the best possible opportunities for success of your quirky teen.

The most recent issue of the American Camp Association’s Camping Magazine included a news item titled, “Five Soft Skills Needed for Job Success”. It referred to the following study published by Child Trends:

Key “Soft Skills” That Foster Youth Workforce Success: Toward a Consensus Across Fields (Laura H. Lippman, Renee Ryberg, Rachel Carney, Kristin A. Moore, 2015) *

Other educators are becoming increasingly aware of something that camp directors have known for generations: that “soft skills” are equally – if not MORE – important to a successful academic and professional careers as mastery of the more traditional school subjects. The Child Trends study referenced by Camping Magazine set out to more precisely define which skills are most closely correlated to positive workforce outcomes (including employment, on-the-job performance, wages and entrepreneurial success). Here are the top 5:

  • Social Skills – getting along with others, demonstrating respect, context-appropriate behavior and conflict resolution.
  • Communication – including oral, written, nonverbal and listening skills.
  • Higher-order thinking skills – problem-solving, critical thinking and decision making.
  • Self-control – delaying gratification, impulse control, paying attention, regulating emotions & behaviors.
  • Positive self-concept – self-confidence, self-awareness, sense of well-being & pride

(These, by the way, align closely with what the 21st Century Skills movement has identified as the all-important 4 Cs: Creativity, Critical Thinking, Collaboration and Communication.)

What’s most notable to us is that this are precisely the skills that we teach at Beyond Akeela. In fact, we couldn’t come up with a more accurate list of our explicit goals for campers if we tried! We see every moment of each camp day – whether it’s a structured camp activity, a meal, or “hang-out” time in the cabins – as an opportunity for our amazing staff to help campers develop their skillset in each of these areas. Our immediate objective in doing so is to have campers leave camp more connected, happier, more self-aware and self-assured. The fact that we’re also preparing them for greater long-term success in school and in the workforce is a source of great pride for us.

— Debbie, Eric and Kevin

* You can find the summary of the Child Trends’ whitepaper here: