Camp Stories Summer camp offers chances for communication breakthroughs that no treatment room can. Clinicians and students tell why. Features
Features  |   June 01, 2014
Camp Stories
Author Notes
  • Bridget Murray Law is managing editor of The ASHA Leader.
    Bridget Murray Law is managing editor of The ASHA Leader.×
Article Information
Speech, Voice & Prosodic Disorders / Features
Features   |   June 01, 2014
Camp Stories
The ASHA Leader, June 2014, Vol. 19, 52-57. doi:10.1044/leader.FTR3.19062014.52
The ASHA Leader, June 2014, Vol. 19, 52-57. doi:10.1044/leader.FTR3.19062014.52
Oh, the nostalgia of summer camp: Tendrils of campfire smoke beckon stragglers for marshmallow-roasting. A stranded rowboat drifts while campers scramble to find oars. Flashlight bubbles bounce on tent walls as campers sneak card games in the upper bunks.
It’s enough to make you yearn to go back. And that’s exactly what some communications sciences and disorders professionals do each summer. Today, they’re directors and clinicians to children and teens with a range of speech-language and hearing disorders. They’re the ones coordinating the search for oars, while also managing campers’ clinical progress.
Though always built around children’s individualized education program goals, camp formats and approaches vary. There are workshops—usually just a few hours a day for a week or two—and half-day, full-day or overnight camps that typically run a week or several weeks.
One example of a half-day camp is the JumpStart Summer Camp Clinics, a four- or eight-week local program for children with communication disorders that’s coordinated by speech-language pathologist Brooke Leiman in Bethesda, Md. In comparison, campers travel to sleep-away camps like Camp Shout Out, a program in Holton, Mich., for older children, ages 8 to 18, who stutter. The week-long program includes hands-on learning for SLPs and CSD graduate students, overseen by training and treatment director Kristin Chmela.
Like many camps focused on special needs, Camp Shout Out is a nonprofit, using donor contributions and grants acquired primarily by its director, local school SLP Julie Raynor, as well as partnerships with the Stuttering Foundation of America and the Western Michigan University Department of Speech and Audiology, among others, to fund its operations. Most—close to 80 percent—of the American Camp Association’s 2,300 members are nonprofits, many of them operated by religious and community organizations and schools.
But some camps, like JumpStart, are privately run. JumpStart is a part of the National Speech/Language Therapy Center, which provides speech-language and applied behavior analysis services year-round in locations in Maryland and Washington, D.C. In the summer, parents can choose to send their children to JumpStart in Bethesda, Md., or to a sister camp in D.C. Through various partnerships, the center helps parents find financial assistance and insurance reimbursement.
Structure aside, a common mission attracts SLPs like Chmela and Leiman to these camps: the chance to work intensively with children beyond the stilted confines of the treatment room. A child who, for instance, has a disfluency issue or hearing loss, gets the chance to talk with a peer to solve a real-life problem like resuscitating a dying fire—with the SLP standing by to support, rather than direct.
“Usually when I see a child, it’s just me and maybe a parent and occasionally a sibling,” says Leiman, leaving little chance to observe directly how skills are translating. “So this is a way to really see when the skills are different with peers or in a group setting, as opposed to one-on-one with an adult.”
It also brings together children and their parents, spurring friendships. “Lots of these children have trouble with social interactions, and at the camp each child is paired with a ‘special friend,’ and the parents all meet each other as well,” Leiman explains. “Lots of children get play dates and treatment partners out of this.”
JumpStart is integrated with National Speech’s services and run by its clinicians, which Leiman considers a real plus. Children who meet at camp often elect to attend group treatment together during the school year, she explains. In group treatment, they receive much-needed help with pragmatic and social skills.
And campers aren’t the only ones reaping benefits: SLPs-to-be often receive academic credit for volunteering. Based on arrangements made with supervisors, graduate students at Camp Shout Out can earn clinical practicum hours, and undergraduates can earn observational hours. Also, through the Stuttering Foundation’s sponsorship, the camp’s SLPs can earn ASHA continuing education units.
But a lot more than clinical hours and CEUs draws students and SLPs to these camps. For Chmela and Raynor of Camp Shout Out, the mission is personal. Chmela grew up stuttering and avoided camp for fear of talking to others she did not know. Now she’s helping similarly affected children to conquer such fears—while also helping to meet a pressing need for hands-on training in fluency disorders. Chmela’s partnership with Raynor began when Raynor’s daughter began stuttering severely at a young age. They began Camp Shout Out four years ago, and now, each August, bring 20 SLPs, 20 CSD students and 40-plus campers to the banks of Big Blue Lake, bordering Manistee National Forest.
Mornings focus on group treatment; afternoons feature activities like acting in a play, reading out loud and ordering snacks at a stand—all of which give campers a chance to practice their speaking and social skills. That’s what sets apart the camp experience from traditional treatment—and what Chmela has seen make a real difference for some campers. One example stands out in her mind: The first year they ran it, a camper named Charles showed up looking skeptical and discouraged (see his perspective below). At 15, he was the oldest at the camp, and he told Chmela that he’d been in treatment for stuttering and apraxia since age 3. He didn’t want camp to just be a rehash of all that.
“My response was that the whole purpose of camp was to make new things happen,” Chmela says. “I told him that if he had the courage, then we would make this a different experience for him. And we did. He kept coming back, and we made him a junior leader. Now he talks in front of everyone, giving directions and advising the other kids.”
Last year, Charles told Chmela that he never thought of himself as a person who could communicate in front of others and be a leader, until he came to camp. “Camp creates a family for kids who can’t communicate easily,” Chmela says. “It lets them be in an environment where no matter how long it takes, they will be heard.”
For Chmela, the experience with Charles was a defining, “magic camp moment” that made her realize the real power of camp. Other CSD professionals have experienced similar special moments of their own. On the following pages, they share some of the ones that really stick with them.
Nicky Carl
Where: Camp Connect, an overnight program at Camp Courage North in Lake George, Minn.)
Who: Children ages 9 to 15 with a range of disorders, including hearing loss, autism spectrum disorder and fluency disorder
Magic moment: Our focus is real-world activities like fishing that bring about real-world interactions and human connections. On the last day we do a carnival with activities where the kids have tickets to participate and win prizes. One of the more vulnerable kids, deaf with poor motor skills, was trying to win something to buy a prize for his girlfriend at home. His motor skills were so limited, it was obvious that he would never win. The kid was 11 or 12. And a group of the older kids, around 15 and also deaf and hard of hearing, were standing there laughing at him. Well, I was sitting there watching this interaction, and I was mortified.
I looked right at these boys, and they looked at me, and I said, “I know you can do the right thing.” So they gave him their tickets. And he thanked them, and then he said to them, “Don’t ever do that to anyone again.”
I was pleased that the older boys recognized and fixed the problem on their own, but I was especially proud of the younger kid for showing that courage, that self-advocacy we’d been teaching. When his dad came to pick him up, I said to him, “You know, it’s gonna be OK. He knows how to stand up for himself.”
Nicky Carl, MS, CCC-SLP is the lead SLP for the Saint Paul (Minnesota) Public Schools.
Amy Costanza-Smith
Where: Camp Odakoda, an overnight camp in Falls City, Ore.
Who: School-age children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorder
Magic moment: What is most amazing about this camp is that it is not a therapeutic camp. It is a camp for kids with ASD to have a positive social experience. In the three years of the camp, it has been very successful in this mission, with campers making friends—campers who have struggled to make friends in other environments. The magic moment was when I realized that I did not have to be a speech-language pathologist.
If a camper was not in the mood to talk, I did not have to motivate him to communicate. I could let him have time to himself because the point of the camp was for kids to have fun, and decompression time can be part of that.
I learned so much by just being a counselor and not a clinician, and that experience has enhanced my clinical skills.
Amy Costanza-Smith, PhD, CCC-SLP, is clinical assistant professor of speech and hearing sciences at Portland State University in Portland, Maine. She is an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Groups 1, Language Learning and Education; and 10, Issues in Higher Education.
Lauren Lonsway
Where: Ohio Valley Voices, a half-day, five day a week program in Loveland, Ohio
Who: Children with hearing loss
Magic moment:
I have volunteered at Ohio Valley Voices since I was in high school. There have been many “magical moments,” but I have really enjoyed seeing a lot of the students grow up and succeed. It makes me so happy to see how much they have learned.
I’m hoping to go to graduate school for audiology. Volunteering at OVV really inspired me to look more into cochlear implants, hearing aids and learning sign language. I can’t wait to go back this summer. I love seeing all their smiling faces!
Lauren Lonsway is a sophomore at the University of Toledo majoring in speech-language pathology.
Lauren Zubow
Where: Authentic Voices of America an overnight camp at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater
Who: Teenagers with severe speech impairments who use AAC devices
Magic moment:
My favorite camp experience was having all of the campers share their favorite song after a discussion about how they relieve stress. Many of the campers shared emotional songs through their devices, which allowed them to express their feelings to each other. It was very moving.
Lauren Zubow, MA, CCC-SLP is a clinical educator at the University of Iowa and an affiliate of ASHA SIG 12, Augmentative and Alternative Communication.
Paige Jungsberger
Where: Camp Shout Out an overnight camp in Holton, Mich. (see introduction)
Who: Children ages 8–18 with fluency disorders
Magic moment:
One magical moment that really sticks out in my mind is when one of Kristin Chmela’s former adult clients came to camp to assist with the teen leader program. He was a Chicago Fire Department lieutenant. He talked to children outside in small groups about his stuttering and how even though he stuttered, that wasn’t going to hold him back in what he wanted to accomplish in life. The lieutenant allowed the children to try on his uniform, and many children’s eyes just lit up at the sound of that.
Having the lieutenant talk to the children really made such an impact. I believe that it really put things into perspective for them, and they realized that they could do anything in life that they put their minds to, that nothing can hold them back.
This camp provided campers the feeling of knowing that they are not alone. It was such a heartwarming experience seeing the friendships that were made between campers and how the teen campers were such amazing role models for the younger children.
Paige Jungsberger is a speech-language pathology graduate student at Seton Hall University in South Orange, N.J.
Martha Hunyadi Testa
Where: Camp Lee Mar a residential summer program in Lackawaxen, Penn., in the Pocono Mountains near the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area
Who:Children and young adults ages 7–21 with mild to moderate learning and developmental challenges
Magic moment:
During the summer between my undergraduate and graduate programs, I was one of a half-dozen SLPs-in-training who provided speech-language treatment to children with a variety of diagnoses and earned ASHA hours while doing it. Lee Marrone, the founder of the camp, was very progressive. At a time when federal mandates such as PL 94-142 [now the Individuals With Disabilities Education Improvement Act] had not been enacted, many students with special needs were educated in institutions. A sleep-away camp with an emphasis on communication was very forward-thinking at the time!
I remember providing speech and language treatment in the pool to a young nonverbal girl with autism. She had no fear of the water so her ability to relax and connect in that environment resulted in some of her first meaningful utterances.
Even though the pay is usually meager, camp work is a great opportunity to try new skills in a new environment. Now, as a school-based clinician, I am reluctant to recommend Extended School Year (summer services) for the students on my caseload unless there is a very clear need. Summer is the time to kick back!
Martha Hunyadi Testa, PhD, CCC-SLP is an SLP at Hanson Middle School in Hanson, Mass. She is an affiliate of ASHA SIG 16, School-Based Issues.
Robert Reinhardt
Where: Camp Shout Out a sleep-away camp in Holton, Mich. see introduction)
Who: Children ages 8–18 with fluency disorders
Magic moment:
Last summer I had the pleasure of working with a bright, courageous young man. He was struggling with the burden of years of bullying. This in combination with other factors led him to develop many negative attitudes and emotions around talking. Toward the end of the week, he was participating in a rehearsal for a skit that he and his peers wrote. The group would be performing in front of the entire camp in about an hour. Some of his own personal experiences with bullying were in the skit. Talk about brave. During a rehearsal break, this young man inadvertently became the bully. He didn’t mean to.
Without knowing it, this young man interrupted one of his peers during a block. His peer ended up breaking down after my camper walked away. He felt betrayed and was thinking he should not be in the play. Eventually my camper became aware of what had happened and felt awful! He [also] decided not to be in the play.
What to do? It seemed like all the group’s work was falling apart. I spent a lot of time with my camper trying to help him understand what had happened. As the skit was going to start, my camper would still not say if he was “in” the skit or not. I decided to stand with the audience and believe in the trust and understanding that had developed between my camper and myself during the week at camp.
Lo and behold, as the skit was being introduced, I looked up and there was my camper in his place for the skit. I was amazed … but not completely surprised. The camp experience allows these young individuals to develop a special bond over the course of the week. The camp family helps them see just how great they are and that what they have to say always matters. In the end, the skit was a great learning experience for all. As a bonus, the campers involved in the skit became even closer friends.
Robert Reichhardt, MA, CCC-SLP is an SLP at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. He is an affiliate of ASHA SIG 4, Fluency and Fluency Disorders.
A SIG 4-sponsored session at the 2014 ASHA Convention, “Stuttering Treatment: How Camps and Programs Can Help Target Goals and Objectives,” will include a presentation by Kristin Chmela. Watch the convention Web page, for more details.

A Camper’s Take: The Chance to Speak Up

Charles Trafelet, of Waterford, Wis., has struggled with stuttering for as long as he can remember. Before his stay at Camp Shout Out, he would never have contemplated speaking publicly. His experience at the overnight camp in Holton, Mich., changed all that. He shares why:

I believe I was 15 during my first Camp Shout Out experience and at the moment I’m 18. My parents suggested the idea to me and I said why not? Without a doubt I was nervous, though. Who wouldn’t be? When I left camp that first year I literally felt like I was coming back home after a great adventure!

I always tell the parents of the new kids that come that, “Your kids are going to be a little quiet when they get back home.” It’s because the camp is so stimulating, so full of learning about yourself. One thing that really got me to enjoy the camp (besides the food, thanks to cook Carl) was the atmosphere of being in a secluded camp back in the woods to relax, and also to have these trained speech-language pathologists working with us.

A big stand-out moment for me was during my first year of the camp: After years of dealing with my stuttering and working on it, I told the counselors I needed a challenge to really test my abilities to communicate. They gladly offered me the opportunity. They created the Leader in Training program [to lead younger campers] the next year, and gave me a chance to speak in front of crowds at camp a lot more.

Experiencing that was what made it worthwhile for me and why I keep coming back, to keep improving and challenging myself. I’ve been to the camp three years straight, and this year will be my fourth and final year. My goal for this year is to inspire as many of these kids as I possibly can to work on their speech while they are there and become better communicators for the future!


June 3, 2014
Erin Hardison
One of the best clinical experiences when I was in college
When I was in college I had the privilege of working as a residential speech-language pathologist assistant/camp counselor at the Children's Beach House in Lewes, DE during the summers of '01 & '02. Not only did I gain valuable experience in reviewing IEPs and working under a SLP, but I got to know these children (ages 6-12) in the therapy room and in all other facets of the camp.It shaped my view to not only focus on the therapy room, but how our goals/therapy carryover to the "whole" child. Congrats to all organizations who are making these camp experiences available to the variety of children we serve!
June 5, 2014
Natasha Haftel
Camp Shout Out
I attended Camp Shout Out as one of the clinicians last summer and it was an amazing learning and growth experience for the campers and the clinicians alike. I love the stories of CSO told above and know there are hundreds, if not thousands more of equally ground-braking stories that were born at just one camp. This camp and so many others like it are evidence that this treatment/learning format really packs a punch! So much can transpire in just a few days that set up a domino effect of change in the days and years to come! Thank you to those who put in the immeasurable hours and effort into making these camps a reality!
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June 2014
Volume 19, Issue 6