2000 Conference Proceedings

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AAC CAMP FROM A-Z

Janie Cirlot-New, M.S., CCC/SLP

Bud Rizer, Ed.D. T.K. Martin Center for Technology and Disability

Jan Shook, M.S, CCC/SLP
DynaVox Systems Inc.

Remember going to camp when you were a child? Remember the many emotions and feelings you had? Camp preparation brings with it a little excitement, a little fear, a little sadness, and a lot of joy. Wow! Camp has not even started yet and look at all the opportunities for communication that have been created. One of the greatest barriers to communication for individuals with severe speech and language disorders is having opportunities about which to communicate. Opportunities for communication are created when individuals have life experiences and willing communication partners. What better life experience than camp! Camp is synonymous with fun, friendship, and new experiences. The communication possibilities are endless…

While several camps across Mississippi provide experiences for children with disabilities, none of these camps emphasize augmentative and alternative communication. In many instances the augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) users are discouraged from bringing communication devices for fear of them being broken or lost. Staff at the T.K. Martin Center for Technology and Disability initiated Camp Jabber Jaw in June, 1998. The camp has been held for two years at the Center and plans are already underway for a third year. Camp Jabber Jaw is a camp for AAC users started with the sole purpose of teaching AAC users to be more efficient and competent communicators. The idea was to bring users of AAC together with their families and typically developing children to provide opportunities for communication in a camp like setting. It quickly became clear that the mission of camp would grow far beyond that original purpose.

The early stages of planning involved brainstorming about activities, a theme, and vocabulary. The camp planners wanted the campers to swim, play, eat, have arts, crafts, a bonfire, perform in a play, make props and costumes, and by the way have fun. All of the ideas were wonderful and appropriate then reality set in – how can we do all this in 4 or 5 days? At this point the planners turned to a book by Gale Van Tatenhove, Camp Cookbook: A Planning Guide to AAC Camps. This book provided a guide to camp basics and even curriculums for several different camps. The staff went to work planning finances, camp style, lodging, facilities, food, campers, staff, staff training, and the curriculum.

So, where do you really begin to plan a camp for individuals who use augmentative and alternative communication? With your pocketbook of course...

The most important asset to Camp Jabber Jaw was volunteerism. Fortunately, there was no lack of willing volunteers. Volunteers were identified through students and recent graduates of allied health and related programs. For a camp involving eight campers, Camp Jabber Jaw required nearly twenty volunteers. This was in addition to the parent(s) of the campers who attended for the week. In addition, vendors and other service providers contributed their time and knowledge. The primary expenses associated with such a camp are material, food and lodging. A strong promotion of the camp will result in fewer actual dollars needed, but nonetheless, such a camp can be expensive. (It should be noted that the first two Camp Jabber Jaws were conducted at absolutely no cost to the campers or their families).

Material needs included raw material for creation of camp projects related to the camp theme. Depending on the host site of the camp, much of this material may be readily available. Raw materials were required for projects completed by the campers and used throughout the camp experience.

Food costs were controlled by having "camp style" food, including hot dogs, hamburgers, and other "fun" food. Consideration must be given to campers whose disability requires special diets. Families are generally willing to take care of this responsibility. Food costs must consider the campers, their families, and all of the volunteers.

Lodging can be difficult. The "camp" in Camp Jabber Jaw did not imply tent camping. There was simply too much occurring during the week to deal with all of the related issues. Camp Jabber Jaw was able to use a low-cost accessible college dormitory for all campers, families and volunteers. Accessibility is obvious important and will restrict some potential sites.

Fund raising can be time-consuming and must be done far in advance of the actual camp. Good promotional material, particularly after completing the first camp, will greatly enhance the ability to acquire funding. Church groups, merchants and vendors in the assistive technology field have all been generous in their cash donations to the camp. Be sure to acknowledge these contributions before, during, and after the camp.

The actual cost of a camp depends on the host organization. Assuming that space (classroom or multipurpose area), recreational resources, limited transportation and others are available, the camp must build upon its infrastructure.

Development of a philosophy and mission for camp establishes the basis for selecting campers, staff, and camp activities. The philosophy and mission should reflect the beliefs of the camp sponsors and planners and will provide guidance in all aspects of planning.

The majority of AAC users in Mississippi and the surrounding areas are "young" communicators. The "young" descriptor having nothing to do with age. The reference to "young" indicates individuals who have only recently begun using voice output devices. Only 2% of the general population have severe speech language disorders. AAC users and families are clearly in the minority. Many times, individuals who use AAC may be the only one in their school district or community, which means the users, teachers, and parents have limited support from others who have "been there and done that".

This fact led the camp planners to create a camp which included campers with a variety of disabilities, ages 5-21 years of age at different levels in their knowledge and experience with voice output devices. All voice output devices were acceptable. Campers were accompanied by either a parent or caregiver. Siblings and other family members were also welcomed. Several children with typically developing language skills were selected to participate as well.

Selection of campers was basically a first come first serve basis from Mississippi and Louisiana. The only "requirement" was that they use an AAC device while at camp.

Staff was composed of a variety of individuals including graduate and undergraduate students in speech pathology, occupational therapy, biomedical engineering, special education, and elementary education. Others assisting were speech-language pathologists (some of whom worked with children attending camp), university faculty, T.K. Martin staff and family, and vendors.

Staff training consisted of one full day immediately prior to camp. It included discussion of characteristics of campers, AAC, safety, feeding, camp theme, and vocabulary.

Choice of a theme for camp led the way for planning activities and vocabulary. Camp Jabber Jaw is located in a rural area so this years’ theme was "Down on Bully’s Farm" (Bully being the MSU mascot). The activities and vocabulary revolved around this theme. The campers attending utilized Delta Talkers, Liberators, DynaVoxes, or DynaMytes for communication. The camp planners subscribed to a functional communication philosophy and chose vocabulary

( words, phrases, and sentences) that allowed the campers to communicatively participate in all camp activities.

Camp Jabber Jaw culminates each year with the performance of the camp play which features each camper. Tony awards were presented for performance (everyone wins). The cast party after the play allowed opportunities for exchange of email and mailing addresses, pictures, and farewell hugs and tears. Much joy, sadness and excitement occurred at the conclusion of camp. Following the activities of ‘final morning’ the staff met for debriefing and planning for next year. Evaluation forms were completed by families and participants in the weeks following camp.

Camp objectives and expected outcomes were evident throughout the week of camp and for months to follow. The endless communication possibilities generated by Camp Jabber Jaw go on and on…..

References

Biggerstaff, K. (1999). Camp Talk: Augmentative Communication Camp. Closing the Gap, 18, 1-27.

VanTatenhove, G.M. (1995). Camp cookbook: A planning guide for AAC camps. Wooster, OH: Prentke Romich Company.


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