Imagine what it is like to not be able to speak intelligibly or to be completely non-verbal. Augmentative or alternative communication strategies and speech generating devices are available to support individuals with such challenges, but it usually requires the involvement of a Speech Language Pathologist (SLP) to teach individuals how to be effective users of this technology. These services are available in schools but these skills do not always transfer easily into community programs.
Cool Communicator Camp is a great venue for children who use augmentative and alternative communication to be involved in a weeklong camping experience with the support of speech language pathologists. Each summer, this program is held at the three BC Lions Easter Seals camps in Squamish (Lower Mainland), Shawnigan (Vancouver Island) and Winfield (Okanagan).
The popularity of this camp continues to grow. There were 50 Cool Communicators who participated in the summer of 2011. Many other campers with limited communication skills also benefitted from opportunities to explore communication technology as well as the knowledge and experience of the SLP support team participating in activities targeted at communication skill development.
Technology that campers brought to camp ranged from multiple message static display devices to complex communication systems, tablet computers with communication software and iDevices with communication apps. Access ranged from direct selection with a hand, headpointer or eye gaze to scanning with a switch.
The majority of campers received their technology from SET-BC with a few having received technology from Sunny Hill Health Centre for Children, school districts, autism funding or from their parents.
Cool Communicators were integrated with other campers with special needs in sharing camp experiences including: the giant swing, waterfront activities, trampoline, pool, climbing wall, low ropes course, campfires, arts and crafts and theme activities. For many, it was their first opportunity to sleep away from home without their parents.
This is a unique opportunity to develop independence skills in the presence of camp staff that are trained to support campers with special needs as well as SLPs to support the specific communication needs of this population!
At camp, the SLP support teams were actively involved with camp programmers in developing communication activities based on various themes. They organized and ran communication stations at the theme-based camp activities which included a Monk’s lunch (no talking except with devices) and games such as Twister, Charades, and using high tech or easy tech devices for non-device users, and general device exploration.
The SLP support team promoted active involvement using devices whenever possible throughout the camp. They took many photos to create photo stories or visual scenes and videos of camp activities on devices. A number of campers even learned to use switch-adapted cameras to create their own photo memories.
If you know of a cool communicator who might benefit from this amazing program next summer, please encourage him or her to participate. Even campers who are not independent can attend with a Personal Support Worker. Registration opens at the beginning of April. Registration is limited so register early to avoid disappointment. Please visit http://www.eastersealscamps.ca for more information.