In the lobby of the Crown Plaza Pittsburgh South, families and children eagerly awaited the beginning of the 2023 ICAN™ Talk AAC Summer Camp. The AAC summer camp serves young people with disabilities like autism or cerebral palsy who have challenges with verbal communication and rely on alternative and augmentative communication (AAC) devices to speak. Augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) methods can be low-tech or high tech, including picture boards to communicate by pointing, and high-quality voice output speech generating devices. These systems have been transformative, creating new ways to express thoughts and ideas. But all of them require a lot of practice.
For many campers, the AAC summer Camp is their only opportunity to interact with other children who also use AAC devices. While visiting the camp, we heard squeals of laughter and saw wide smiles on campers’ faces as they socialized with volunteers and their peers and practiced on their devices.
This summer marked the first in-person camp since the onset of the pandemic. Children excitedly anticipated seeing peers they hadn’t seen in years. Families were hopeful to help their children regain skills lost during the pandemic.
The staff of the AAC Institute crafted an engaging and exciting camp environment. Camp activities provided a dynamic learning experience for children to practice functional skills like asking for help or answering yes or no questions. A parent of a first-time camper shared, “The combination of expertise, peer interactions, modeling, and fun…made for a great experience.”
Campers had a blast exploring the “Back to the Future” camp theme. Some campers built telescopes that could “see” into the future. Other campers decorated a large time machine. Most of the campers were clustered around the large camping tent erected in the corner of the conference room. The tent was filled with blankets and pillows, creating a cozy nook for reading and relaxing. In the same corner, campers were blowing bubbles, enjoying a playful and sensory experience.
For families, this camp is a rare opportunity to connect with others who share similar experiences. Parents note that the workshops hosted by Dr. Katya Hill, director and founder of the AAC Institute, are critical in helping them navigate the school system. In addition, parents get the opportunity to see how other families and children integrate AAC into their everyday lives. One parent noted, “It was very inspiring to see other campers and mentors using their devices so successfully.” Many families are immensely grateful to Katya and the AAC Institute team for bringing joy and confidence to their young AAC users. Resources like the ICAN™ Talk AAC Summer Camp are crucial for building community and empowering people with disabilities. FISA Foundation is proud to support the ICAN™ Talk AAC Summer Camp in providing transformative experiences for young AAC users and their families. To learn more about the AAC Institute, click here.