2020 marks a decade of social and communication summer camp at Magnificent Minds Inc. Though our expertise has been refined, the size of our program has grown, our site has expanded to 2 area codes, and our facilities have been upgraded, our guiding principles have remained the same.
Here's what we know, and what guides our programming and content development in our Summer Camp (but frankly, in all of our programs year-round):
1. Tell me and I'll forget, engage me and I'll remember.
It's kind of funny how often I see a very basic rule being ignored when it comes to social and communication skills training; we can't learn social and communication skills without doing (read as: using, performing, engaging in) social and communication skills.
If I had a nickel for every time I was told a kiddo cycled through an 8-week-block of social skills training, which btw occurred 1:1 with 1 adult and 1 kiddo in a room alone (smh), and made no meaningful gains beyond reciting some "social rules", I'd be rich.
Here's the thing with social and communication skills training-no, I'll be bolder. Here's the thing with learning anything new. It's not enough to JUST learn about it; you also have to do it, and do it again, and then practice some more. This is true for everyone but especially true for kiddos who struggle with skill development, application and generalization due to existing deficits (processing deficits, language deficits, or otherwise). I know you're thinking "duh" but honestly-this is one of those foundational ideas that is so frequently missed by well intentioned practitioners who work diligently from curriculums designed to target social and communication skills from the bottom up.
So, at the core of our social and communication skill building we recognize that learning about a concept means nothing if you can't apply it and so each day consists of carefully crafted opportunities to elicit and shape the skills we're working on (but our kids just call it "camp").
2. For kiddos with social and communication deficits we need to target social and communication development consistently; think--immersion training not once a week language classes.
Have you ever tried to learn a foreign language in a once-a-week, 1 hour class? I have. It's rough. I mean, it's theoretically possible for someone who is neurotypical or perhaps gifted in language, but it's not something I'd recommend for fast and meaningful skill acquisition as a general rule.
Think about how different your experience would be if you were plopped into a new country, that speaks the language everywhere in every exchange, and where your efforts are reinforced constantly by people who "speak the language"; where you are immediately corrected if you're a bit off in delivery, and immediately rewarded when you nail it! Again, seems like a no brainer right? And yet, we often expect our kiddos to organically "fill the gap" in their social and communication skills with 30 minute recess blocks, or once per week social skills classes. If a neurotypical adult would have a hard time, you bet your kiddo with existing deficits in this area is going to struggle in this approach.
So, we create an immersive social and communication experience for our learners. The difference between dedicating 8 weeks of full-time "study" (read as: immersion training where every single activity has roots in skill building but feels like "regular kid stuff") and a once a week social skills class is the equivalent of the difference between a once-a-week, 1 hour language class compared to being plopped into a new country that speaks the language everywhere. Immersion is key!
3. Kids with a history of social and communication struggles often have a history of stressful and unsuccessful social interaction; part of teaching new skills, means reconditioning these kiddos to see the value of social engagement again (we're actually cool, we swear!)!
We've all had social experiences in our life that made us cringe, or that left us feeling unfulfilled or worse, badly about ourselves; sometimes, where those experiences happen will impact our willingness to engage under similar circumstances in the future. If every time I go to the bar, I meet people who make me feel icky, I'm unlikely to be motivated to socialize in the bar in future; I might even opt out of going to the bar altogether. While your kiddos likely don't frequent bars, they do frequent schools and may have had similar experiences which cause overall reluctance to engage socially in school-like environments. Imagine if you were used to being ignored, misunderstood, or worse--only spoken to when a task needed to be done!? Many of our kiddos come to us with learning histories we can't ignore, and part of setting them up for success is acknowledging this struggle and re-pairing the social experience with positive outcomes.
So, we view the establishment of relationships as vital to successful social and communication skill building. The pairing process, whereby we establish trust, and ensure students see the value in engaging with us, with their peers and with others they come into contact with on a daily basis, is a central starting point for all programming goals.
Our Summer Camp program is filling up for Summer 2020 in Toronto and Vaughan, Ontario. We have an Early Bird Registration Discount available until February 1st 2020! For more information or to book a facility tour, give us a call!
And if you can't make it to us this summer, remember these 3 guiding principles to set your kiddo up for success; if you have specific questions, find me on IG at @MagMinds