Camp Aspire

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Camp ASPIRE was created to develop the missing or inadequate communication skills necessary for academic and social success in children with autism between the ages six and 16. It is an intensive six-week ABA-based summer half-day camp, where data on each participant is collected and analyzed to develop an individualized treatment plan.

Camp ASPIRE (Autism Social Skills Program for Interaction and Relationship Education) was developed to fill a void in our community and to provide children on the spectrum an opportunity to participate in summer camp. The mission of the camp is to develop the skills necessary to build friendships and improve relationships through the use of researched based social skills instruction in an inclusive environment. The use of typical peer mentors provides a realistic learning environment that allows for easy generalization in the real world.

Camp ASPIRE was established in 2008 after the Autism Society Central Illinois discovered that there were no camp opportunities for higher functioning children on the spectrum in this community. The children Camp ASPIRE serves do not typically qualify for Extended School Year services and do not benefit from the local UCP/ARC camps which serve more significantly disabled individuals. In addition, no one in the community was offering an intensive program that targeted social skills specifically.

Here are some Frequently Asked Questions (and answers)  from parents interested in Camp ASPIRE:

What is the purpose and philosophy of Camp ASPIRE?

The philosophy at Camp ASPIRE stems from the belief that all children can benefit from a camp experience and every child, regardless of ability, should be given the opportunity to participate. Summer camp provides a chance to get to know new people both on the spectrum and neurotypical, explore and develop interest in new activities, and learn new skills that are enjoyable. Acquiring these skills can greatly improve the lives of the participants.

Camp ASPIRE believes that children on the spectrum should be given the opportunity to meet new people. Often times, children with disabilities follow a fairly rigid routine and do not have contact with unfamiliar people. They see the same people day in and day out with no chance of expanding their circle of friends and acquaintances. The camp experience allows these children to come in contact and get to know many new adults and children in a structured inclusive environment. Many of the friendships developed at Camp ASPIRE have continued after the conclusion of camp.

At Camp ASPIRE we believe that it is important to expose children on the spectrum to a wide variety of new activities, expand communication and social skills, build self esteem and increase the number of interests they can share with others. These skills are easily generalized due to the natural inclusive environment. All of this leads to an increased level of interaction and socialization which is necessary for success in the real world.

Camp ASPIRE believes that all children have room for growth and that the camp experience is a wonderful, fun way to help children reach their potential. Camp ASPIRE strives to help each participant reach their potential by giving them the opportunity to meet new people, try new activities, and learn new skills. This is all done in a fun, inclusive camp environment with highly trained staff.

How is Camp ASPIRE structured?

The camp follows a structured yet flexible half-day schedule. Each day the director, teacher and camp counselors begin with a team meeting to discuss the days’ events and to problem solve for individual children. This is followed by a greeting time when the participants arrive and have a morning meeting to practice conversational skills. Children are placed on teams of three or four based on their age and social abilities with two camp counselors. Each team rotates through three stations a day where specific social skills lessons/activities are presented and practiced. Between each station various activities are planned including recess, snack time, music and movement, free exploration, arts and crafts, and team sports. A closing meeting is held each day to review the days’ events and to say goodbye to our friends. This is followed by another staff team meeting to discuss the day and plan future activities and lessons.

What is the basis for the curriculum for Camp ASPIRE?

Camp ASPIRE’s curriculum is based on six crucial social skill areas:

  1. non verbal communication,
  2. conversation,
  3. problem solving,
  4. perspective taking,
  5. emotional awareness,
  6. interactive play.

Specific behavioral objectives are targeted for each skill area through the six week camp. Objectives are individualized to meet the unique needs of participants. Each objective is addressed using a variety of methods including direct instruction, games, video modeling, differential reinforcement, peer mentoring, role playing, and scripts.

How will my child benefit from Camp ASPIRE?

Camp ASPIRE has been serving campers with autism for four years and has produced remarkable results.  In the first summer alone, data showed a significant increase in social initiation skills, social responses, and length of social interactions. In a six week time span, average social initiation increased by 45%, social responses increased by 25% and the length of sustained interaction increased from 4 minutes to 14 minutes.

More importantly, the participants of Camp ASPIRE and their parents, truly enjoyed being part of this unique and focused camp experience.  When surveyed at the conclusion of camp, parents reported that their children greatly benefited from the camp and they were using their newly learned skills in the home environment. According to parents, the strengths of the camp include the outstanding training of the camp counselors, the ratio of counselors to participants (1:2), and the use of peer mentors to reinforce skills. When rating their children, all parents saw improvement in interactive play, non verbal communication, conversational skills, problem solving, perspective taking and emotional awareness.

How do I know if my child is eligible for Camp ASPIRE?

Your child is eligible for Camp ASPIRE if the meet the following criteria:

  • Has a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder
  • Aged 6-16 years
  • Toilet trained
  • Completed kindergarten
  • Participated in an inclusive setting at school
  • Must be able to communicate verbally

How is Camp ASPIRE staffed?

The director of Camp ASPIRE is a certified special education teacher with many years experience working with children on the spectrum and ABA methodology.   A Developmental Psychologist (with a specialty in Developmental Disabilities) and the founder of Camp ASPIRE (special educator who is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst) both serve as consultants and trainers.

The counselor/child ratio is 1:2 and all counselors have experience in the education of autistic and special needs children and attend a full day training prior to the start of Camp.  Many of our counselors return each summer.

What is the Tuition of Camp ASPIRE?

The tuition for Camp Aspire is $450 (paid in two installments) for the 6 week program.  The cost per child is about $1000 and ASCI provides scholarships for every child to cover this cost.

What if I can’t afford the $450?

Each summer we try to provide 2-3 scholarships for families that cannot afford the tuition.   The number of scholarships vary from year to year as they are funded with grant money.    An application for additional scholarship support will be available.

In 2015 ASCI received funds from Autism Speaks to provide Camp Aspire scholarships for families who could not afford the tuition.  2016 funds have been applied for and we will be notified in May if we will receive funds for Summer, 2016.

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When are applications for CAMP ASPIRE available?


Camp ASPIRE Camper Application 2016 cover

2016  Camp Aspire Scholarship Application

CAMP ASPIRE 2015!!

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