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Teens with Asperger's learn about college life through Camp Campus

RELEASED: June 15, 2010

students in Career Services
students boarding city bus
Participants in the 2009 Camp Campus discussed career exploration during a session in UW-Eau Claire Career Services and experienced using public transportation.

EAU CLAIRE — Twelve high school students with Asperger's syndrome are spending this week on the UW-Eau Claire campus to get a sense of what it will be like to attend college.

The teens, eight boys and four girls from Wisconsin, Minnesota and Illinois, are attending the second annual Camp Campus offered by UW-Eau Claire's Center for Communication Disorders. The program, funded by a Medicaid Infrastructure Grant, is specifically for students with Asperger's who have completed their junior or senior years of high school and plan to go to college. The camp began June 13 and runs through June 18.

"The emphasis is on self-advocacy and on greater independence for these students with special needs," said Dr. Kristine Retherford, chair of UW-Eau Claire's communication sciences and disorders department.

Twenty-two mentors, most of whom are UW-Eau Claire communication sciences and disorders students, will work with camp participants during the week's activities. The mentors are led by two coordinators who are certified speech-language pathologists and graduates of UW-Eau Claire's communication sciences and disorders program — both of whom are using vacation time from their current jobs to work at Camp Campus, Retherford said.

"The model for mentors is to ask participants, 'How can I assist you in meeting this challenge?' rather than 'How can I fix this situation for you?" Retherford said of the camp's focus on helping the participants develop independence and readying them for the college experience.

Participants, five of whom have been accepted at colleges or universities where they will attend classes this fall, will experience life on a university campus and use typical college services including residence hall living, university dining services, a college debit card and recreational opportunities. Among the week's activities will be financial management sessions with representatives from RCU, fitness training with faculty from the university's kinesiology department, one-on-one meetings with faculty who teach in the students' academic areas of interest, and creation of electronic portfolios highlighting students' experiences during the six-day camp. Before meeting their parents for the camp's closing activities on Friday, participants will even do their own laundry in the residence hall laundry room, Retherford said.

Reporters are welcome to observe, videotape and photograph Camp Campus sessions. For schedule information and to learn more about Camp Campus, contact Dr. Kristine Retherford, chair of UW-Eau Claire's communication sciences and disorders department, by phone at 715-836-4905 or 715-577-6546 or by e-mail at retherk@uwec.edu.

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JP/DW

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