What do you remember about summer camp? Singing around a campfire? Tenting? Making new friends?

For a special group of kids who use augmentative and alternative communication (AAC), the summer camp by the lake you are imagining might not happen. But thanks to the hard work and dedication of therapists and volunteers at the Alvin Buckwold Child Development Program, summer camp for these kids is possible and they get to experience all those things we mentioned, just in a slightly different setting.

Group at a campfire

Alvin Buckwold Child Development Program therapists and volunteers (in green) assist the children attending the afternoon session of camp with a group activity.

The setting is the Kinsmen Children’s Centre in Saskatoon, which has run its Camp AACtion every summer since 2009. And while the campfire at this camp may be made of wood and tissue paper, the warmth of its glow can be felt across the room. Camp AACtion is a therapeutic summer program supported by a team of AAC consultants. The AAC team includes speech-language pathologists, occupational therapists, a psychologist, an equipment specialist, a social worker, and physical therapists.  It is an opportunity to deliver intense communication therapy in a fun and engaging setting.

“We have between five and eight children join us at camp for either a morning or afternoon session for a week,” explains Jenn Markosky, Speech-Language Pathologist Alvin Buckwold Child Development Program. “Camp AACtion is designed to be very similar to any other camp. We have water gun competitions, play in the gym, tent, and enjoy craft time. We believe every child should have the opportunity to create these kinds of memories. For me, my favourite part is working with the whole group around the campfire, singing songs and playing games. Every year is special.”

We all use AAC when we make facial expressions or gestures or write. People with severe speech or language challenges rely on AAC to support or replace speech. For some, it can be the only way they can express themselves. Children at the Camp use a variety of special augmentative aids such as sign language, pictures or electronic devices such as iPads.

A camper uses her iPad to answer a question from her therapist

A camper uses her iPad to answer a question from her therapist.

“Kids with various needs come to our camp and many of them see it as a reward for a year’s worth of hard work with their AAC team,” explains Markosky. “We work with each child one-on-one at the camp to provide opportunities for each camper to use AAC to communicate their needs and wants. We have some group time and then we encourage each child to explore a game or activity they want to experience. We have a great group of therapists, volunteers and graduate students to do this.”

One of the most unique aspects of Camp AACtion is the parent component. Parents can attend their own program while their children enjoy theirs.

“The parents remain in the building but are led by a social worker and a psychologist,” says Markosky. “They cover everything from support groups to AAC communication strategies to financial planning. Some of these families are travelling a long way and for us it only makes sense to offer information and support to the caregivers of these awesome kids while we work and play.”