In the Limelight: Introducing the Great Outdoors High school SLP Nancy Hagan took a big step to get her students with high-functioning autism to socialize on the weekends. In the Limelight
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In the Limelight  |   January 01, 2014
In the Limelight: Introducing the Great Outdoors
Author Notes
  • Kellie Rowden-Racette is the print and online editor of The ASHA Leader. ·krowden-racette@asha.org
    Kellie Rowden-Racette is the print and online editor of The ASHA Leader. ·krowden-racette@asha.org×
Article Information
Special Populations / Autism Spectrum / In the Limelight
In the Limelight   |   January 01, 2014
In the Limelight: Introducing the Great Outdoors
The ASHA Leader, January 2014, Vol. 19, 20-21. doi:10.1044/leader.LML.19012014.20
The ASHA Leader, January 2014, Vol. 19, 20-21. doi:10.1044/leader.LML.19012014.20
Introducing the Great Outdoors
High school SLP Nancy Hagan took a big step to get her students with high-functioning autism to socialize on the weekends.
BY KELLIE ROWDEN-RACETTE
Name: Nancy Hagan
Position: Speech-language pathologist, Grossmont High School, El Cajon, Calif.; owner of Camp Onward, Jamul, Calif.
Hometown: San Diego
Nancy Hagan wants to keep things small and status quo at her newly founded Camp Onward in Jamul, Calif., but realizes that could be a problem. The camp, which began officially in March 2013, is a Saturday-only camp geared toward getting local high school students with high-functioning autism spectrum disorders out and about. The problem is that the first few sessions were so well received—with students asking to return each consecutive session while even more are being recommended—and now Hagan can only see more students coming.
“We might need a bigger ranch,” she says, laughing.
It’s really not a surprise that the nine-acre ranch isn’t going to contain Hagan’s vision for long. Her program has been brewing for many years. As a speech-language pathologist at Grossmont High School for the past 16 years, Hagan has seen a need for Camp Onward coming. For years she has worked to promote initiation and pragmatic language among her students with high-functioning autism.
But no matter how much progress they would make in school, every Monday she would ask them the same question—“What did you do this weekend?”—and invariably get the same answer: “Oh, nothing. Stayed at home and played video games.”

Nancy Hagan (left) and her daughter, Alea Parker, teach skills such as caring for animals to students on the autism spectrum.

Nancy Hagan (left) and her daughter, Alea Parker, teach skills such as caring for animals to students on the autism spectrum.

Nancy Hagan (left) and her daughter, Alea Parker, teach skills such as caring for animals to students on the autism spectrum.

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“No matter what progress they were making with me, they weren’t generalizing their skills to the rest of their lives and using them,” Hagan says. “I thought somebody ought to offer these kids a place to go on the weekends so they can get out and socialize. They needed to get away from the video games.”
And then in June 2012 she saw an opportunity to be that somebody. She and her husband found a ranch for sale and, with some encouragement and several months of preparation, Hagan put action to her words. Camp Onward welcomes students every other Saturday for four hours to learn farm skills, such as taking care of animals, and life skills, such as cooking and carpentry. Each session lasts for two months and then a new session begins. The students,
recommended by Hagan’s regional speech-language pathology contacts, come from communities near the ranch. Each session is limited to six students, but the first session proved to be so popular among those who attended (and wanted to come back) that Hagan created another group, “The Graduates,” a Sunday group for young adults who have graduated from high school and are looking for a place to hang out.
“There’s no pressure to meet IEP goals or collect data,” says Hagan. “We just get outside, do some work, have some fun and get moving.”
It’s almost a given that that Hagan wanted to find a way to get these kids moving. She was practically born moving. As the epitome of the original California girl, Hagan (then Nancy Quint) grew up in San
Diego, the middle child between two brothers. Her father was an ophthalmologist and her mother was a homemaker. Hagan recalls always being active outside and, well, moving. Interestingly, her father suggested to her early on that she look into the career of speech-language pathology. He thought that it would be a good career for her skillset (talking), she says, and that if she wanted to raise a family it would provide her with flexibility. Instead, of course, she became a professional modern dancer with Lamb’s Players Theater in San Diego and Karen Goodman Dancers in Los Angeles.
“Dancing was such a wonderful outlet for me,” she says. “I had so much fun in those years.”
Hagan danced professionally for 16 years and recalls having “a ball.” But as the years and life began to wear on, she looked at her meager earnings as a modern dancer and realized that she needed a career with more stability. She first considered becoming a counselor, and then possibly a teacher, when a friend resurrected the idea of becoming an S L P.
Camp Onward welcomes students every other Saturday for four hours to learn farm skills, such as taking care of animals, and life skills, such as cooking and carpentry.
“It was perfect,” Hagan says. “She said it was like being a teacher and I’d still get to help children, which is what I wanted to do.” What most appealed to Hagan was the ability to help the neediest students and now, with Camp Onward, she has the ability to give them even more attention. It’s clear that her idea—not even a year old—is working. And as
much as she’d like to keep the current size—small groups, easy schedule, relaxed activities—it’s hard not to notice the numbers of students with ASD coming up through the schools who would potentially benefit from Camp Onward or other places like it.
“Who knows what the future holds?” she says. “But to quote my mom, the major influence in my life, ‘We’ll have to play it by ear and move onward, ever onward!’” Image Not Available

Nancy Hagan (left) and her daughter, Alea Parker, teach skills such as caring for animals to students on the autism spectrum.

Nancy Hagan (left) and her daughter, Alea Parker, teach skills such as caring for animals to students on the autism spectrum.

Nancy Hagan (left) and her daughter, Alea Parker, teach skills such as caring for animals to students on the autism spectrum.

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January 2014
Volume 19, Issue 1