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There are many adult participants in the Talking With Technology (TWT) Camp program. All are there for their own special reasons, to accomplish numerous goals, having many different expectations.
We hope to accommodate everyone. However, that can best happen if all are sensitive to the diversity of individuals and expectations represented. Increasing knowledge, communication and flexibility are the key concepts to a successful and enjoyable experience for everyone.
TWT Camp, while quite informal, is also very intense. Within the serenity of the Rocky Mountains, all participants have fun and work very hard. There are no maids, waitpersons, or "go-fors" at camp. Don't expect an immediate response to questions or needs, although most often there will be one.
Camp is organized differently from other programs. Adults will need to keep on their toes to learn about daily schedule changes, where to go, when to meet, etc. Camp is a unique opportunity to "paradigm shift" if you give it – and yourself – a chance. Let yourself enjoy (even if things aren't the way they usually are)!
The whole concept of the TWT Camp was developed over 20 years ago through collaboration between Children's Hospital Colorado and the Easterseals Colorado. Both of these agencies are dedicated to working together cooperatively, to attain mutually beneficial goals for children and adults attending their programs.
The Easterseals Colorado camp staff will be primarily responsible for the care of all the campers and siblings, and the overall camp activities (e.g., swimming, etc.). The TWT program and activities are infused in daily activities of camp. The TWT program is only one week out of an entire summer of weekly programs for the Easterseals Colorado staff. This means that for this week, the Easterseals Colorado staff has to totally readjust their schedules and routines to accommodate TWT programming.
By the time the TWT week comes, camp counselors have already spent half or two-thirds of their summers working with a new group of campers every week, most of whom have significant needs. They may not know everything there is to know about managing children with severe needs, however they will know a lot about these things, as well as what it takes to run a successful camp. In this area, they are the experts.
We all know that not everyone is the same. Some counselors are "wild and crazy", others may be more reserved. ALL are there to work with campers and, in a unique way, "make a difference."
Many "trainers" are acquainted and work with the TWT campers prior to their participation in this program. However, soon these trainers will know that their seemingly intense work with a particular child doesn't compare with a 24 hour experience that comes with the camp.
Trainers are assigned to campers with the specific purpose of facilitating development and use of AAC systems. This means that trainers will be learning (lots) as they go, trying to develop the most appropriate vocabulary and system organization, and working with the camper in all camp activities to use their systems.
Teaming with the counselors is important primarily to maximize the benefit for the camper. Communication between trainers and counselors is essential.
Trainers must be aware that just because they may know more about a specialty area (e.g. speech-language pathology, special education, etc.), and a particular child, "their way" is not the only way, and maybe not even the best way. Part of the camp experience for many TWT children parallels that for "typical" children. All kids get homesick! All kids have opportunities to have things that are NOT "just like home!" All kids learn what it's like when things AREN'T done "the same way!" This is all part of the TWT Camp experience, for kids – and trainers.
Trainers are NOT surrogate mothers. On the other hand, knowledge that trainers have about skills and kids is extremely valuable to camp staff if shared in an atmosphere of collegiality and mentoring, not "expert" and "instructor". Remember..."teaming." Trainers are not responsible for the personal care of the campers.
Sometimes, due to severe medical needs Rocky Mountain Village requests that the child have a personal care attendant (PCA) with them. Parents can not choose to send a PCA because they feel their child needs one, the director at Rocky Mountain Village will work closely with the director for Talking with Technology to determine which kids HAVE to bring their own PCA. These individuals usually sleep in the same cabin as the campers if possible and attend to their personal and medical needs. PCAs are not maids or attendants for counselors or trainers. They are welcome to participate in any training session offered to the trainers, though the majority of their time is usually spent with the camper.
The PCA's and counselor's roles may overlap. It is important that the PCA develop their responsibilities with the counselor. Working this out together and defining roles initially will prevent misunderstandings later. Remember..."communication."
It may be impossible for the PCA to care for the camper in exactly the same way as they are used to doing. (Remember, it's OK, we're at camp, and it's not supposed to be the same.)
Counselors are interested in establishing a friendship with all their campers. If not given opportunities to work with the campers as they usually do, this may be more difficult. "Hovering" PCAs make this impossible.
Cluster leaders officially supervise TWT activities. Most often cluster leaders are speech-language pathologists from Children's Colorado who are specialized in Augmentative and Alternative Communication. Typically they are not assigned to an individual camper. Their primary role is to facilitate groups of 5-6 campers and trainers in the development and use of AAC systems. This facilitation may take on many different forms. They may help trainers learn more about programming, problem solving, and implementing AAC devices. They may also help each group "get organized" with relationship to the TWT activities, which are a part of every day. They may help trainers resolve any problems they're having in understanding the purpose and organization of the TWT Camp program.
There are usually "consultants" at TWT Camp. They are frequently representatives of AAC manufacturers or individuals with particular technical expertise. They are at camp for several reasons, the primary one being to help us! They provide instruction about systems, information about different ways of programming and using systems, and they do lots of problem solving when things "crash" or need to be repaired.
The consultants are also interested in learning more about the consumers that use AAC devices. They are open to suggestions (not gripes!) about the ways in which systems might be improved or changed. They learn from watching us work. They're valuable people to have at camp and often lifesavers for the times when you just spent hours programming a device and it won't work. They "fix" things (usually AAC devices, but sometimes other things – it never hurts to ask).
The adult participants are at camp for many different reasons. Hopefully everyone's goals will be met. The TWT Camp directors and Easterseals Colorado staff will do everything possible to make this a valuable experience for all. All we ask is for everyone to be considerate and respectful.
The key to this program's success is for everyone to remember that its primary purpose is for the campers to have fun and in this process learn that communication enhances this objective. With this in mind, everyone will enjoy and value the experience.
If you require more information or have questions about Talking With Technology Camp, please contact: Caroline Woeber, Team Lead of Augmentative Communication Camps. She can be reached by phone at 720-478-2353 or by email.