Explore Our Programs
Childhood is a time of discovery and adventure! MGH Aspire's child programs offer groups for children and young adolescents, with a high-cognitive autism spectrum disorder or similar profile, a variety of opportunities to learn and practice key skills while supporting their need to have fun and explore. At MGH Aspire, individuals come together with a well-matched cohort of peers to build social skills, stress management strategies, and self-awareness through interactive, supported, and structured activities. In naturalistic childhood contexts such as group games, cooking projects, and more, participants receive in-the-moment feedback from both staff and peers to work towards individual and group goals. At MGH Aspire, we use a strengths-based approach to help all participants feel accepted and valued for their unique qualities. Our groups pull from a variety of disciplines including Speech and Language Pathology, Occupational Therapy, Social Work, and Special Education to design and implement tailored curricula rather than manualized lesson plans so we can be most responsive to the specific needs of our participants and groups. Additionally, our enhanced group model provides weekly take-home parent resources as well as parent support groups and wrap-around collaboration with schools and additional providers.
MGH Aspire child program groups are designed to guide children and young adolescents with a high-cognitive autism spectrum disorder or a related profile to further their growth in social competency, stress management, and self-awareness in a thoughtfully-prepared environment. Our goal is to create naturalistic learning opportunities through play-based, multi-modal activities.
Using a child-centered approach to support skill development and foster social engagement, our theme groups are a place where your child can come together with similar-age peers around shared interests (cooking, games, etc.). Groups typically meet once per week for 60-90 minutes in a well-matched peer cohort of 4-6 participants with at least two staff.
MGH Aspire group leaders use the excitement and motivation of these special interests to teach and practice social skills, stress and anxiety management, and self-awareness through structured activities and with the support of real-time feedback. Our programs are designed to help children and young adolescents generalize strategies across contexts to build deep, meaningful friendships, increase self-esteem, and improve stress and anxiety management.
Seasonal group themes are aligned with participant interests and may change annually. Below are some examples.
- Active Play
- Cook and Connect
- Creative Arts
- Improv & Creative Arts
- Engineering Club
- Mindful Me
- Social Group
- Team Sports
Summer Camp - We're Going Virtual in 2020
We are proud to be an American Camp Association-accredited camp.
MGH Aspire's summer adventure camp is a 6-week program for individuals ages 5-14 with high cognitive autism spectrum disorder or a related profile. Participants come to us with a variety of diagnoses including but not limited to Asperger’s Syndrome (AS), autism spectrum disorder (ASD), nonverbal learning disorder (NVLD), anxiety disorder, ADHD, or similar cognitive profiles. All of whom benefit from MGH Aspire’s curriculum. Campers are placed into well-matched groups of 4-6 participants, which are each supported by two staff. In their group, campers participate in a rich weekly schedule full of typical camp activities, such as boating, swimming, archery, and art. Participants receive direct instruction and in-the-moment social coaching to support skill building in the areas of self-awareness, stress management, and social competency (MGH Aspire’s “3S” model). Camp is located at Hale Reservation in Westwood, Massachusetts. This beautiful campus provides 1,137 acres of woodlands, including four ponds and over 20 miles of trails. This is the perfect backdrop to facilitate a summer full of adventures and foster meaningful friendships that continue to develop beyond camp.
Our staff focuses on each camper’s strengths to create a safe and comfortable environment in which they can learn, grow, make social connections, feel successful and have fun. In collaboration with caregivers, campers identify personal goals and receive daily feedback about their progress.
Adventure Camp, Ages 7-14
Adventure camp is a fun-filled 6-week summer day program. Children participate in typical day camp activities, much like their neuro-typical peers, such as swimming, hiking, boating, fishing, nature exploration, field trips, art, drama, cooking, games and yoga. While participating in these engaging activities, campers also receive MGH Aspire’s state-of-the-art curriculum, interventions, and social coaching that are seamlessly integrated throughout the day.
Adventure Camp Junior, Ages 5-7
Appreciating that a full adventure camp day might be too long for some of our younger campers, daily activities are modified to meet the developmental level and physical capabilities of younger children. Each fun-filled day is designed to encourage social interaction and focus on what it means to be part of a group.
Adventure Trail Blazers, Ages 12-14
Campers entering their teen years are often ready to take on new challenges and expand independent living skills. The trail blazers program introduces campers to more advanced executive function, self-regulation, social competency, and independent living skills while preparing them for the teen explorations program. Within the safety and comfort of the MGH Aspire environment, trail blazers are given the opportunity to participate in many typical adventure camp activities as well as community outings, pre-vocational opportunities, management of the MGH Aspire camp store, and community service projects. Trail blazers are involved with group and individual goal setting as well as self-reflection exercises.
Note: Not all applicants in the adventure trail blazers age range will be an appropriate match for this program. Grouping decisions are made by clinical staff based on developmental readiness, appropriate peer matching, and space availability. For those who are not a match for the trail blazers program, there may be a potential match in one of our other MGH Aspire summer programs.
Application and Admissions Process
Applications are accepted on a rolling basis, starting in December for our summer camp programs. Once all application materials are received, an intake interview will be scheduled. To learn more about our application process, visit our Apply Today page.
Important: Our curriculum, staff ratios, and methodologies are well-suited for a particular type of child, teen, and/or young adult. Our program is not an appropriate placement for everyone. We believe that the success of each participant is in part due to the attention we place on creating well-matched peer groups. We want each participant to learn, grow and succeed to the best of their ability. To achieve this, we have a careful application and selection process.
Summer Camp FAQ
What are the summer camp hours?
Camp runs Monday through Friday with an early release every Wednesday afternoon. Hours can vary based on pick-up and drop-off locations. Please refer to the schedule below.
|Location||Drop-off Time||Pick-up Time||Address|
*This opt-in service carries an additional transportation fee.
M, Tu, Th, F: 3:30pm
|Warren Prescott School|
M, Tu, Th, F: 2:45pm
|Westwood High School|
|Junior Camp (Trading Post)||8:45am||Monday-Friday: 1:00pm||Trading Post - Hale Reservation: 80 Carby Street, Westwood MA|
Please note: Junior camp families will receive Hale Reservation visitor passes from MGH Aspire staff members at the beginning of Camp. These color-coded passes allow you to enter the Reservation, and they should be clearly displayed on each caregiver’s dashboard during Junior Camp drop-off and pickup.
Where is the Trading Post located?
The Trading Post is MGH Aspire’s central location at Hale Reservation. The address to the entrance of Hale Reservation is 80 Carby St., Westwood, MA. Once you enter the Reservation, follow the road for one mile (stay to the right when the road splits with a large parking lot to the left). After a sharp right turn, followed by a sharp left turn, you will arrive at the Trading Post. The Trading Post is a log cabin with a green roof located on the right side of the road. Directly across from the Trading Post (on the left side of the road), you will see a dirt parking lot.
Do I have to sign up for the full 6 weeks?
Yes, participation in the full 6-week camp session is mandatory. Consistency is crucial to the success of our campers. We are a skills-based program that succeeds by creating a sense of group belonging and fostering connections between campers. If children come and go, it would greatly impact the success of the program, group process, and individual progress.
Can international families participate?
Yes. We welcome families who live outside the United States. We also welcome campers from other regions of the United States. Please note that English is the primary language used at MGH Aspire. Please email us at email@example.com for more information about being an international or out-of-state camper.
What activities are offered?
- Swimming (lessons and free swim)
- Hiking/wilderness exploration
- Archery (for ages 8 and up)
- High ropes courses (for ages 9 and up)
- Low ropes courses
- Movement & yoga
- Cooperative games/sports
- Science & engineering
- Visiting exhibits and special events
- Late night/overnight experience
What takes place during the overnight?
Children participate in extra free swim and boating time after their typical dismissal. We have a cookout and make s’mores followed by watching a movie (often outside under the stars!). Children sleep in tents with small groups of familiar peers in the Trading Post backyard. There are always at least 2 staff members awake and supervising throughout the evening. The next morning, campers eat breakfast together and are picked up at 9 am.
What is the camper-to-staff ratio?
Junior adventure camp ratios are 2 participants: 1 staff. Adventure camp and trail blazers ratios are 3 participants: 1 staff. There is also an additional team of 8+ leadership staff available at all times on site. Children who consistently require more individualized, 1:1 behavior management intervention, may not match the profile of peers attending MGH Aspire and the curriculum goals targeted at camp.
What level of education and training does the staff have?
All MGH Aspire summer staff have experience working with neurodiverse children of a similar profile to our campers in applied settings – many have post-secondary education and/or training in such areas as: mental health, special education, speech and language, and occupational therapy. All staff take part in more than 40 hours of intensive pre-program training and orientation, as well as on-going professional development and individualized supervision throughout the summer.
Is this an “inclusion” camp environment?
No, MGH Aspire campers are there to work on social, stress-management, and self-awareness skills (although not all participants have a formal diagnosis). These goals are supported by both direct instruction in skill building and in-the-moment coaching to generalize the use of these skills across contexts. Our participants often report finding solace and comfort being among a group of peers facing similar challenges. Hale Reservation, however, accommodates more than 10 other partner camps each summer, and we value sharing community spaces with others, such as the beach and boating docks.
What types of special events or visiting exhibits happen during the summer at MGH Aspire?
Special events change year to year. All campers at MGH Aspire participate in at least one visiting special event or exhibit each summer. In recent years, our campers have enjoyed a visiting zoo, create-your-own-story traveling puppet theatre and barnyard babies. Campers also have an opportunity to attend one Late Night/Overnight experience with extra activity blocks, a cookout dinner, s'mores over a fire, and a sleepover in tents with their camp friends. Adventure camp Juniors may stay for a full day at camp.
Is there transportation available?
There is an optional bus service available from Charlestown, for an additional transportation fee. The bus pick-up is in Charlestown at the Warren Prescott School. At the end of the camp day, campers will leave Westwood, then return to the drop-off point back in Charlestown. For families living outside of these geographical regions, many families coordinate carpooling prior to the start of camp.
|Location||Drop-off Time||Pick-up Time||Address|
*This opt-in service carries an additional transportation fee.
M, Tu, Th, F: 3:30pm
|Warren Prescott School - 50 W School St, Charlestown, MA 02129|
M, Tu, Th, F: 2:45pm
|Westwood High School - 200 Nahatan St, Westwood, MA 02090|
|Junior Camp (Trading Post)||8:45am||Monday-Friday: 12:45pm||Trading Post - Hale Reservation: 80 Carby Street, Westwood MA|
Are electronics or other personal items allowed?
No, camp is a technology-free zone. If participants bring any electronic devices, including cell phones, MP3 Players, and personal gaming systems, staff will secure these items until the end of the camp day. Participants taking the Charlestown bus are permitted to bring and use technology during travel times, and this technology will be collected by group leaders upon arrival at Hale Reservation.
Is the camp nut free? How does the staff handle food allergies?
MGH Aspire takes food allergies seriously and works closely with families to create a safe environment. MGH Aspire camp is “nut free” meaning we do not serve any nut products and we require that families refrain from sending any nut products with their children. However, the facilities we use do not require nut-free restrictions, and therefore we cannot guarantee a nut-free environment. We do our best to sanitize shared camper spaces and will discuss specific concerns/accommodations on a case by case basis.
Prior to Camp, MGH Aspire staff review the health information of each child and make note of special diets or health concerns. A list of allergies and dietary restrictions is maintained at our camp site along with how to treat if a child has a reaction. All staff are First Aid and CPR certified and participate in additional pre-camp training around allergen safety and management. Leadership staff receive additional healthcare training to maintain safety standards.
Is there a nurse on site?
There is a nurse and EMT on site at all times, both employed by Hale Reservation.
Is there aftercare available in the afternoons?
No, we do not currently have any aftercare options available at camp. Staff use the afternoons for planning, supervision, and ongoing professional development.
What happens on rainy days at camp?
Inclement weather does alter our daily schedule, although our goal is to minimize the change. At Hale Reservation we look to find alternative indoor programming such as art, cooking, board games, yoga/movement, music, or, in rare cases, a movie. All activities focus on our core mission rain or shine. The recent addition of the Simches Family Pavilion allows us to host engaging, multi-modal programming with a greater number of both small and large indoor spaces.|
What do I need to pack (or avoid) in my child's backpack?
Please send the following to camp EVERY DAY:
- Backpack that fits participant’s body size.
- Morning Snack (NUT FREE)
- Lunch (NUT FREE)
- Appropriate attire and weather gear for the day, e.g., cool - sweatshirt, rainy - raincoat.
- Appropriate footwear for the day’s activities. Generally, we recommend sturdy sneakers for walking or light hiking (sandals and open toes are not allowed).
- Water bottle filled with water and ice (reusable bottle preferred).
- Swimsuit and towel, even if swimming is not on your child’s schedule that day.
- One change of clothes and an extra pair of socks, to be stored throughout the summer in the event that a change is needed. Please label all clothing with your child’s name.
Please DO NOT send to camp:
- Participants should not bring personal sports or watercraft equipment, animals, toys, jewelry, trading cards, books, cameras, or electronic devices. However, there may be instances when staff gives participants permission to bring certain items. Please note the following:
- If participants bring any electronic devices, including cell phones, MP3 Players, and personal gaming systems, staff will hold onto these items upon arrival at Camp in the morning.
- Participants may not use their personal cell phones (for texting, outgoing calls, incoming calls, and data use) at MGH Aspire.
- Clothing should be developmentally appropriate and conducive to outdoor activities.
- Sunscreen: Please apply sunscreen, of at least SPF 30, to the participant’s exposed skin prior to leaving home in the morning. We will provide additional sunscreen to be applied at camp as is necessary, with parental permission. We encourage the use of hats, caps, long sleeve shirts, sunglasses and lip balm to provide additional skin protection.
- Bug spray: Please apply bug spray to the participant’s exposed skin prior to leaving home in the morning. We will provide additional bug spray to be applied at camp as is necessary, with parental permission. If participants need to use a different kind of bug spray than is provided, please give it directly to staff members, and they will be responsible for carrying and applying the family’s preferred type of bug spray.
Items never allowed on site by participants, family members, or staff include: alcohol, drugs, weapons, firearms, personal sports equipment, vehicles and animals. Smoking is not allowed anywhere on the program site at any time.