Another successful and exciting summer is wrapping up at the JCC’s J&R Day Camp, in Monroeville. For the ninth summer, I have had the privilege to manage the Merck Summer Therapeutic Inclusion Program for children with high functioning Autism (UPMC Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic). This year, sixteen children were able to take part in the benefits of attending the summer camp. This is central given that these children often are not able to attend camps with typically developing peers due to a lack of age-appropriate social skills and negative behaviors that keep them from being successful. The ongoing collaboration between J&R and the Merck Program provides both the children with Autism and their typical peers the opportunity to come together each summer in a fun, safe, structured environment. In addition, the development of self esteem, a strong sense of community and social belonging has been evident in all participants.
Operating as part of the J&R day camp, the program offers evidence-based mental health treatment to children ages 5-12 years old with high functioning Autism. Designed to fully immerse each child into the camp environment, treatment is highly flexible and provides “in the moment” behavioral coaching, a daily social skills group, and abundant opportunities to practice and learn with typical peers.
The Merck team is committed to approaching each child uniquely; hence prior to camp we meet with each family, along with treatment team members, schools and other important sources to determine individualized goals. These goals focus on those skills that enhance social relationships, communication, attention to task, emotional regulation and active participation – all areas known to be generally impaired among children with Autism.
Being fully included in all activities enables the child to gain confidence during natural social situations and provides ample opportunity to practice skills needed to make friends. To help facilitate this, the Merck team works closely with the JCC staff to promote acceptance and integration into their “typical” peer group, transfer the basic behavior interventions and support needed to enhance independence during camp day. The Merck Summer Therapeutic Inclusion Program is licensed and approved by the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services and children must meet the following eligibility criteria:
Children must reside within Allegheny County and have a diagnosis of Autism (high-functioning).
In addition, children must also meet all of the following to be eligible:
– Active Medical Assistance
– Participate in treatment within a 1:4 child to staff ratio
– Capable of both receptive and expressive conversational skills with same age peers and staff.
– Fully toilet trained (No pull-ups)
– Able to participate and stay with their camp group without 1:1 intervention.
– Able to physically & mentally tolerate a highly interactive outdoor program for 6 hours per day, 5 days a week.
Exclusionary Criteria – Demonstrate aggressive and/or dangerous behavior(s), thus resulting in the need for frequent staff intervention.
Merck Summer Therapeutic Inclusion Program
Center for Autism and Developmental Disorder
Jodi Toscolani, M.Ed., BSL