Get Ready for Summer Camp!

autism resources, social skills autism

Like it or not summer is right around the corner… and the age old question is lurking in the back of your mind: “What are we going to do this summer?” Kids are off school, therapy schedules may have relaxed… allowing you some extra time to plan something special for your child. What about summer camp?

At the thought of summer camp, my heart rate picks up a tick and my blood pressure rises… How could my child possibly exist with our my expert parental care? Breathe… Once logical thought resumes… I realize this might a wonderful opportunity for my child, who is now 9 years to try out summer camp. I, personally, have fond memories of camp as a child…but what about kids with special needs – are there camps (near me & don’t cost a millions $$$) that successfully manage children with behavior and emotional challenges such as autism or Aspergers?

The American Camp Association (www.acacamps.org/) suggests you consider many things when choosing a summer camp for your child, including:

  1. Location
  2. Cost
  3. Accreditation – such as by ACA “American Camp Association”
  4. Activities
  5. Length of Time – Day Camp, Overnight
  6. Size
  7. Extra Accommodations – training of staff, etc.

Talking to other parents, and the internet are great places to start when looking for a camp for your child. Once you narrow down your options, plan a visit and talk to other experienced campers and their families. This will give some more good data to make and informed decision.

I found a camp that allowed first time campers do different versions of a week long typical camp. They offered a Mini Camp, for a shorter period of time, or a You and Me Camp, where parents could spend the weekend with their camper and then phase out their departure.

As to funding, Autism Speaks offers many autism resource where you can find grants to support your child’s time at camp: https://www.autismspeaks.org/family-services/grants.

Once you have weighed all your options and finally make decision. You will then begin the process of preparing your child for camp. Along with a visit to camp this is opportunity to talk about what he/she will need to pack, what activities they will be doing, and how to best interact with counselor and other campers

Camp is a wonderful time to work on social skills because the campers are together for such concentrated time together. Hopefully with the right preparation and supports from camp staff you child will get some good practice and success to build their social confidence!

Watching some videos/movies about camp can help too:

Berestain Bears – Go To Camp

Camp Fred the Movie (silly take on camp for older kids)

Howcast (this one has some good info and other you might want to fast forward over)

http://www.howcast.com/videos/190581-How-to-Survive-Summer-Camp

Organizational Tools, Tricks and Apps for Children with Special Needs

It’s normal for a child to hate doing homework, but for children with special needs, this hatred can quickly develop into tantrums and meltdowns and make a necessary task difficult for everyone involved. If the right amount of structure and routine is built into the task however, the daily experience of doing homework can build a stronger relationship between the parent and child.

It is important to find the right place for your child to do homework, and that place may not necessarily be a desk. The kitchen table, where you can monitor progress, or even on the floor if it’s too distracting to sit for long periods of time, will work. Its important to remain flexible and adapt to whatever will continue to work for the child, allowing for flexibility when an approach stops working.

Keeping your child’s work organized so that what needs to be accomplished can be easily found and tracked is essential. Our Social Skill Builder Software, School Rules can help your child organize their materials and offers a way to track their progress with easy to navigate prompts. Additionally, there are apps available that can help children of any age accomplish their tasks in an efficient manner. For example, Plan It, Do It, Check It Off by I Get It, LLC can help pre-readers make lists they can understand by using pictures that can be checked off when the task pictured is completed. In this same vein, Photomind, allows for a multi-sensory approach to a calendar or a to-do list, attaching a specific photo to a reminder or a task.

Time management is an abstract skill to teach and is essential in the life of a productive adult. Effective time management can be learned from childhood, and using an app like Binary Hammer can help your child get started on the road toward effective routine time management. This app will also allow you to set up a list of tasks and assign a length of time in which to complete them. Because the app is very visual, it makes it easy for child with learning disabilities to see when they are working efficiently towards their break time, or whether they need to work faster.

For high-school aged children, the app iStudiez can help your child organize their schedule, summarize their course load, track their grades, and keep up-to-date with pending tasks and upcoming classes. All of these skills are difficult to teach on their own, and useful throughout an entire lifetime, so it is a long-term investment in your child’s future.

Development of Social Skills in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

By Jennifer Jacobs, M.S., CCC-SLP

For many children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), succeeding academically at school is an achievement they work long and hard for. Sometimes, however, this intent focus on academic competence can lead parents and educators to overlook critical social skill development. This is most apparent on the playground and other places at school where large amounts of unstructured time leave children with ASD to sink or swim in a complex social environment.

Over the last twenty years, much research has indicated that social impairment is a common feature of ASD, and a common misperception is that these children lack interest in relating to others. Kids with ASD do not choose to alienate themselves – they are simply missing skills that are essential for developing meaningful peer relationships. You may have noticed some of these common social deficits:

  • Opening and closing a conversation
  • Initiating peer interaction and joining play
  • Decoding facial expressions and body language
  • Observing and mimicking appropriate social behavior in specific situations
  • Predicting and understanding the emotions and reactions of others

If you stop and think about it, these are not easy concepts, and in fact, most children succeed socially at recess or in the locker room because they’ve acquired these skills automatically through repeated exposure to real-life scenarios. Children with ASD, however, don’t have that ability. In fact, it is notoriously difficult for these children to acquire social skills that come to many of us naturally. In order to master social skills, children with ASD must be taught them explicitly, and have the opportunity to practice them again and again and again. This last point is a key one, because many children with ASD don’t master social skills simply because the adults in their lives arbitrarily decide that a certain number of trials should be sufficient and give up on the effort too soon.

It’s critical, however, that caregivers and educators make a concerted effort to teach social skills to children with ASD despite the challenges. Otherwise, they may find it impossible to interact with peers one-to-one, or in an informal group. Instead of eagerly anticipating unstructured play periods like other children, they might dread them. Over time, they might become anxious and depressed, and might purposefully avoid the very social situations in which they need to become competent. They’ll carry their deficits into adulthood and may spend their lives feeling lonely and rejected.

That desire to belong that propels most people to learn whatever it takes to fit in is not something that’s necessarily implicit in children with ASD. For some, this type of “social sense” may never be fully achieved. But in order for a child with ASD to grow into a well-adjusted adult, he must learn basic social functioning, even if he never gets to the point of emotional relatedness. Social skills are the entryway to all relationships that involve two or more people, from friend/friend and teacher/student to boss/employee and salesperson/customer.

For this reason, it’s unfortunate that social skills acquisition is not automatically included as part of most children’s school curriculum. However, with our guidance and persistence and the right training program, even the most emotionally challenged children can master effective peer interaction at every stage of the game, from the moments just before class starts and conversation in the lunchroom to locker room changing sessions and afternoon recess.

Commercials in Video Modeling

Whenever I speak at a conference, I always try to make it to other professional presentations when I am there.  I adore this indulgence to my social skills training interests.  There are so many wonderful therapists and educators who have found great ideas and are willing to share with others!

At the ASHA conference in November, I was thrilled to go to a session that promoted many things about video modeling and social skills (which of course I love), but also talked about using television commercials.  The speaker specifically addressed Super Bowl commercials, which really sparked my interest.  As a less than enthusiastic football fan, I (for years) have LOVED watching the inventive, comical and sometimes outlandish commercials that cost millions to air on Super Bowl Night.  I am the one is shushing everyone when the commercials are coming next!

SO this wonderful speaker’s suggestions of their use in therapy spoke to me.  One example she gave was the Doritos Flying Baby commercial:

Besides the obvious social interaction of bullying, the non-verbal language cues in this commercial are outstanding to dissect with my students who have difficulty deciphering those cues.  The body language and facial expressions truly show the emotions of the characters who wear them.  We also can use this short clip to predict what would happen next, which really has the student using their critical thinking skills.

It also reminds me of the teasing videos in Social Skill Builder’s CD My School Day.  The same bullying theme persists, but this interaction also highlights the bystanders and their role in supporting the bully by laughing and pointing. Click on this link and select My School Day from the products list to watch this interaction:

http://192.254.147.100/~conveyan/school_day_demo/index.html

In the program, the students are asked to not only identify what is going on, but also to figure out how to stop this.  By taking the viewpoint of the victim, the student can problem solve (without the emotional stress of being there) what is the best solution in this circumstance.

Other great videos that this speaker recommended were commercials from Sonic.  Here is an example of one that highlights “play on words:”

The misunderstanding between the two characters is comical, but also illustrates the necessity of understanding common idioms or sayings.  This is a great introduction to looking at those different kinds of words and what they mean in our language today.

Wherever we can find videos that highlight critical social interaction – whether it is in the award winning Social Skill Builder software or in commercials – we have the opportunity to illustrate key social concepts to our students.  With their gained familiarity and understanding to these, often common, situations we can offer assistance in preparing them for future social interactions.

Jennifer Jacobs