My speech-language pathology colleagues and I want to give children who use augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) the same opportunities and benefits that their typical peers enjoy. These benefits include improving interpersonal skills, forming friendships, taking safe risks, character growth, developing life skills, meeting positive role models and discovering their best self, as described in the “Sunshine Parenting” article, “Five Reasons Every Teen Should Go to Summer Camp.”
Launched in 1998, Camp Jabber Jaw (CJJ) at Mississippi State University has grown from a small group of campers to a large gathering of AAC users, their family members and speech-language pathology graduate students who serve as counselors and receive clinical training. Campers ranging in age from 5 to 21 stay on the Mississippi State campus, experiencing dorm life as well as a host of camp activities including swimming, horseback riding and the ever-popular camp dance. Each summer, we select a new camp theme and plan all activities around this theme. Last year, campers went on safari, while previous themes include super heroes, pirates and our own version of “The Amazing Race.”
Often, our clients who use AAC are one of a very few or the only student at school with a communication device. Parents often tell me that their child hesitates to use their device because it makes them “different” from classmates. A camp where they are part of a larger group all using AAC helps them overcome those hesitations. All activities at CJJ involve their devices. Family members—often the entire family—attend and participate in activities. The final morning of camp features a skit produced and performed by campers.
When asked if camp benefited her family, one parent responded: “YES!!! Rachel saw and experienced what true communication is at CJJ. It was the first time she saw kids just like herself, in power chairs with devices. The impact was huge. All the work pushing her to learn/use her device paid off big time, and she initiated speech with no mom or SLP to prod her along.”
From its small beginnings, Camp Jabber Jaw has evolved and camp staff has seen great rewards from the campers’ experiences. I encourage other SLPs to consider planning a camp for AAC-users to give children the opportunity to use their devices in a fun, summer experience with others.
More on summer camps for AAC-users and other students with speech-language challenges:
Laurie M. Craig, M.A., CCC/SLP, works at the T.K. Martin Center for Technology and Disability at Mississippi State University. She also coordinates the Project IMPACT Early Intervention Assessment Team, as well as Camp Jabber Jaw. In addition to these positions, Craig works with Project EXPRESS Yourself, an art program for individuals with significant physical disabilities.