Unique camp makes students feel at home on campus

| LeBrenda Street

Most students struggle to adjust to the challenges of college life — unstructured independence, dorm living, tough class schedules and a new social world.  For students with Asperger’s syndrome and high-functioning autism, the transition can be daunting.

Camp Campus at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire is now in its eighth year of reaching out to these students and equipping them to succeed in college. The camp provides high school juniors and seniors diagnosed with autism/Asperger’s syndrome a one-week university experience on campus. It is an immersion into college life for students who are capable of succeeding academically but struggle because they have difficulty with time management and organizational skills, adapting to social situations and making transitions in general.

This year Camp Campus will be held June 5-10. The registration deadline is April 15.

When Camp Campus participants arrive on campus, they are matched up with a mentor; together they work through these potential obstacles to build the camper’s comfort and confidence levels. Throughout the week campers have typical college experiences, including using their own university debit card, eating in campus dining facilities, living in a residence hall with a roommate, and participating in recreational opportunities and fitness training.  

One of the biggest stressors for individuals with Asperger's is uncertainty brought on by social expectations. To help build their confidence, campers receive daily instruction and practice things such as relating with a roommate, communicating effectively with professors and working in groups.   

No college experience would be complete without classes. Campers attend seminars on time management and organization, technology, personal finance, learning styles, and other topics of interest. They also have the opportunity to explore their field of interest by meeting with professors and professionals who currently work in that field.

By the end of the week a significant transformation has taken place in the campers. According to Kay Hagedorn, the Camp Campus coordinator, their confidence increases and anxiety decreases, they feel greater independence, and they have established friendships with students and faculty.

“Campers see the successful completion of a degree and a future career as real possibilities for them,” Hagedorn said.

Many Camp Campus participants have become Blugold students. Two recent campers have graduated from UW-Eau Claire and are now on to other ventures — one is in grad school (he was also a McNair Scholar) and the other is working for a local office of a nationwide software development company.

As college enrollment of students diagnosed with autism and Asperger’s is on the rise, programs like Camp Campus and on-campus services are vital to their success.   

For more information, contact Camp Campus Coordinator Kay Hagedorn (715-836-4054, hagedoke@uwec.edu) or visit http://www.uwec.edu/CSD/insights.

Photo caption: Violinist Randy Sabien works with student Kelsey Erickson during Camp Campus at UW-Eau Claire.