Jenny Bergman, ’14, is working with the Kelberman Center, an organization in Utica that provides autism services across the lifespan, as they operate the Awesome Summer Days camp. The day camp is for children between the ages of five and thirteen with Autism Spectrum Disorders or related learning challenges. Activities at the camp are designed to develop social and interaction skills in fun and engaging ways.
Jenny is collecting qualitative data on the effectiveness of the camp program and on satisfaction with camp outcomes through pre-camp, post-camp, and six-month follow up surveys of campers, parents and counselors. She is also conducting case-study research by looking at the specific goals that the families of each camper outline, such as safety skills (i.e. crossing the street independently), active participation, and verbal expression, and by researching potential interventions for each goal. For example, in order to increase active participation, the counselors use a “reward board” system that acknowledges a camper when he or she completes a step of an arts and crafts project with a token that is placed on the board. Once the camper earns five tokens, he or she can choose a reward, and can place a reward visual under the five tokens. This encourages the campers to make a visual connection between the task, the tokens and the reward. The goal of the system is to encourage campers to increase their independent active participation.
This experience has not only strengthened Jenny’s qualitative data collection and analysis skills, but it has taught her a great deal about Autism Spectrum Disorders. As a psychology major and educational studies minor, Jenny feels that this experience will help her to think more broadly about potential career choices. It has also given her the opportunity to experience upstate New York at a time of year that most Colgate students miss, and an opportunity to get to know man of the campers and their families. “Because I was interacting with campers and staff,” she said, “I feel like I have a greater sense and knowledge of the upstate area, and all of the great things the region has to offer.”