By Lane Vaughn, Technical Writing Intern
The Speech Pathology department at the University of Tennessee has just completed its second successful year of hosting the UT Volunteer your Voice Summer Program. It is a one-week camp for children ages 8-15 that have speech, language, hearing, or communication disorders. Camp participants spend the first two half days on UT’s campus, and then head to The Great Smoky Institute at Tremont for a 3 day/2 night stay. While participants must be able to take care of basic mealtime, bedtime, and hygiene tasks, this camp is perfect for children who suffer from the poor social or communication skills commonly associated with Autism Spectrum Disorder.
Tricia Hedinger, director of the camp, has worked as a speech pathologist for 17 years, and has spent eight summers working at camps. Two years ago, she met with Dr. Jen Jones from Tremont, and they collaborated to create a program that combines traditional speech therapy with a hands-on, immersive summer camp experience.
During the first two days at UT, the campers spend time doing individual therapy with a graduate student clinician, as well as group therapy, and skill building group activities. They practice conversation skills through interviewing each other, and various guest speakers. The kids then write an article about what they have learned, and it is published in a camp newsletter.
At Tremont, participants meet with their counselor to determine personal goals, and are rewarded with jelly bracelets whenever they complete a skill. This is adapted to an outdoor camp setting, as kids are encouraged to start conversations about what they see around them.
“For example,” Hedinger says, “if they were out in the woods or the stream and found something interesting, like a Salamander, and said, ‘Hey, look what I found!’ they would get a bracelet for initiating conversation.”
Hedinger says that, for kids with social skills issues, “being out in a natural environment… gives them an idea of a real, actual peer initiation, as opposed to something contrived in the therapy room.” She says, “When you’re actually out there in real situations—at meal times, in the woods, playing games with other kids, just sitting around chatting…the experiential learning fosters social skills, and we’ve had incredible results.”
The Volunteer your Voice Summer Program has an adult to child ratio of 1:2, with four UT faculty members and graduate student counselors who are pursuing their Masters in Speech Pathology. It accepts 14 kids, and costs $360, with scholarships available.
“It is a safe, enjoyable experience for you child. We see tons of smiles every day, and we haven’t had anyone homesick!” says Hedinger.
For more information, visit http://thedinge.wix.com/utsummer-camp, or call (865) 974-4641.