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MGH Aspire's child programs offer children and young teens, with high-cognitive autism spectrum disorder or related profile, a variety of opportunities to develop and build key skills. Our goals are to help children succeed in social environments, building and understanding friendships, and learning to self-manage stress and anxiety.
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Childhood is a time of discovery and adventure! MGH Aspire's Child Programs offers groups for children and young teens, with a high-cognitive autism spectrum disorder or similar profile, a variety of opportunities to develop and build key skills while supporting their need to have fun and explore. At Aspire, individuals come together with peers of a similar age to learn and practice social skills, stress management strategies, and self-awareness while engaging in interactive, supported, and structured activities and games. Children are placed in well-matched peer groups where they can receive in-the-moment feedback from both staff and peers to work towards individual and group goals. At Aspire, we use a strengths-based approach to help all children feel accepted and valued for their unique qualities.
MGH Aspire Child Program social groups are designed to engage children and young teens with a high-cognitive autism spectrum disorder or similar profile, in fun and purposeful group activities while supporting skill development. Our Theme Groups are a place where your child can come together with others who share a love of the specific theme (Cooking, Games). Groups typically meet once per week for 60-90 minutes in small groups of no more than 6 children.
Participants are supported by an Aspire staff member in ratios of 3 or 4 to 1. Aspire Group Leaders use the excitement and energy for these special interests as a vehicle to work on social skills, stress and anxiety management, and self-awareness. Our programs are designed to help children and young teens generalize strategies across settings to build deep, meaningful friendships, increase self-esteem, and improve stress management.
Groups will differ from semester to semester, so if you want to see your favorite group return, let us know!
Being more mindful, aware of your environment and acknowledging thoughts and feelings can help in a variety of ways. Participants will engage in mind-body activities, including mindfulness and yoga (among others) to improve self-regulation of emotions, relaxation and stress management.
Aspire’s Social Groups ebb and flow with the interests of the group, while following our curriculum goals of supporting social skills, stress management, and self-awareness. Social groups give children a supportive opportunity to connect with peers across a wide variety of interests, to form meaningful connections.
Participating in a group sport is a great way to make social connections, feel a part of your community, and exercise! But, our children and young adolescents often face challenges in experiencing success without structured support in these settings. Our Team Sports group will take the form of a weekly sports clinic where Aspire staff will provide explicit teaching on the rules and expectations of common childhood sports and provide opportunities for participants to practice the skills they need to be able to participate and succeed on inclusive teams. Team sports are also an excellent opportunity to practice perspective-taking: Thinking about others, reading their body language and making predictions about their intentions. *Participants should wear comfortable athletic clothing and sneakers. Participants should also bring a water bottle. (A snack will be provided.)
This is a shorter version of our Team Sports that is designed and adapted just for our youngest participants. Activities include games and recreation designed to build competence in everyday recess and playground games.
What would childhood be without games? Board games and other collaborative activities are ready-made lesson plans! Inherent within so many well-loved board games are the social and stress management skills Aspire’s participants need to be successful across settings. What happens if you lose? How can perspective help you win a game? Will executive functioning strategies help me with my game strategy? Aspire Group Leaders select board games, or use group favorites, to create natural opportunities for skill-building, providing thoughtful and targeted in-the-moment feedback so everyone can participate and have fun!
What better way to assess teamwork and executive functioning success than eating the product! Aspire’s Cooking Groups support participants to learn and apply executive functioning skills (time management, breaking down a larger task, following sequential directions, etc.) while also navigating a group dynamic in the kitchen. Our staff coach participants to see themselves as part of a team and to take ownership of being a productive member during group work.
Funny? Unexpected? Both? Improvisational games (improv) and activities are a great way for participants to experiment with the ‘hidden curriculum’ while also growing their self-awareness and awareness of others. Funny improv, really funny improv, requires individuals to be in tune with each other and with the group as a whole. Aspire Group Leaders will select and design improv activities that will target social skills and stress management. Group Leaders will be there to provide explicit feedback on successes and to talk through challenges or barriers to creating effective improv.
Adventure Summer Camp
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 5-15 with a variety of diagnoses including but not limited to Asperger’s Syndrome (AS), high cognitive autism spectrum disorder (ASD), nonverbal learning disorder (NVLD), anxiety disorder, or similar cognitive profiles who can benefit from Aspire’s curriculum. Our campers are placed into well-matched groups of 4-6 participants, which are each supported by 2 staff. In their groups, campers participate in a rich weekly schedule full of typical camp activities, such as boating, swimming, archery, art, as well as direct instruction and in-the-moment coaching to support skill building in the areas of Self-awareness, Stress management, and Social competency (Aspire’s ‘3S’ model). Our camp is held at Hale Reservation in Westwood, MA. This beautiful campus provides 1,137 acres of woodlands, including four ponds and over twenty miles of trails for your child to experience. This is a perfect backdrop to facilitate a summer full of adventures and friendships to last a lifetime.
Our staff focuses on each camper’s strengths to create a safe and comfortable environment in which they can learn, grow, make friends, succeed and have fun. Whatever your child’s developmental needs might be, MGH Aspire has a program that fits.
Adventure Camp, Ages 6-15
Adventure Camp is a fun-filled 6-week therapeutically-based summer day program. Children participate in typical day camp activities, much like their neuro-typical peers, such as swimming, hiking, boating, nature exploration, field trips, art, drama, cooking, games or yoga. While participating in these fun activities, campers also receive Aspire’s state-of-the-art curriculum, interventions, social coaching and supports that are interwoven throughout the day.
Adventure Camp Junior, Ages 5-7
Appreciating that a full camp day might be too long for some of our younger campers, Aspire offers a shorter day option. Adventure Camp Junior’s goals are similar to those of the longer day Adventure Camp, but activities are modified to meet the developmental level and physical capabilities of younger children. Each fun-filled camp day is designed to encourage social interaction and focus on what it means to be part of a group.
Adventure Trail Blazers, Ages 12-15
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 and prepares them for the Aspire Teen Explorations Program. Within the safety and comfort of the Aspire environment, Trail Blazers will be given the opportunity to not only participate in the many typical Adventure Camp activities but will also participate in group orienteering, go on extra camper-planned field trips, manage the new Aspire “Camp Store", and engage in community service projects. Trail Blazers will also have increased involvement 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 Aspire summer programs.
Frequently Asked Questions
See our FAQ page.
Aspire campers have the cognitive capacity for solid peer connections but lack the skill set to form these connections. Typical diagnoses include Asperger's Syndrome, or related challenges. Early teenagers may be eligible for our Explorations Program. Aspire serves the Boston metropolitan area.
Aspire’s Child Programs are managed by Elise Wulff, M.Ed. Adventure Camp counselors and specialists are composed of a bright, talented, and caring team that wants to help your camper succeed. All staff has experience working with children on the autism spectrum – many have post-secondary education and/or training in such areas as: mental health, special education, speech and language, and occupational therapy. Additionally, all staff takes part in more than 40 hours of intensive pre-program training, orientation as well as on-going supervision throughout the summer. All programs are designed and supervised by Aspire’s year-round clinical staff.
Tuition Rates, Fees and Deadlines
5 - 7
Adventure Camp Junior
2018 info coming soon
6 - 15
12 - 15
Adventure Trail Blazers
Download our financial aid application on our application page.
Application and Admissions Process
Applications are accepted on a rolling basis, starting in December for our Summer Camp Programs. Once the complete application materials are received an intake session will be scheduled. Click here for application materials.
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 and to achieve this we have a careful application and selection process.
Aspire’s Summer Adventure Camp is a 6-week program for individuals ages 5-15 with a variety of diagnoses including but not limited to Asperger’s Syndrome (AS), High Functioning Autism (HFA), Nonverbal Learning Disorder (NVLD), anxiety disorder, or aimilar social-cognitive profile who can benefit from Aspire’s curriculum. Our campers are placed into well-matched groups of 4-6 participants, supported by 2 staff. In their groups, campers participate in a rich weekly schedule full of typical camp activities, such as boating, swimming, archery, art, as well as direct instruction and in-the-moment coaching to support skill building in the areas of Social competency, Stress management, and Self-awareness (Aspire’s ‘3S’ model). Our camp is held at Hale Reservation in Westwood, MA. This beautiful campus provides 1,137 acres of woodlands, including four ponds and over twenty miles of trails for your child to experience. This is a perfect backdrop to facilitate a summer full of adventures and friendships to last a lifetime.
Our staff focuses on each camper’s strengths to create a safe and comfortable environment in which they can learn, grow, make friends, succeed and have fun. Whatever your child’s developmental needs might be Aspire has a program that fits him or her.
2018 Camp Dates: Thursday, July 5th - Thursday, August 9th
Camp runs Monday thru Fridays with an early release every Wednesday.
Camp Hours vary based on pick-up and drop-off locations.
M, Tu, Th, F: 3:30pm
Warren Prescott School
M, Tu, Th, F: 2:45pm
Westwood High School
Junior Camp (Trading Post)
Trading Post - Hale Reservation: 80 Carby Street, Westwood, MA
Yes. Why? We are a therapeutic program that works to create a sense of group belonging and foster connections between campers. If children come and go, it would greatly impact the success of the program and individual progress.
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 Aspire. Please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information about being an international or non-local camper.
Children get an extra free swim and boating time after their typical dismissal time. We have a cookout and make s’mores followed by watching a movie (often outside under the stars!). Children sleep in tents in the Trading Post backyard and there’s always at least two staff members awake throughout the evening. The next morning, campers eat breakfast together and are picked up at 9am.
1 staff: 3 participants
Almost all staff has experience working with children on the autism spectrum – many have post-secondary education and/or training in such areas as: mental health, special education, speech and language, and occupational therapy. All staff takes part in more than 40 hours of intensive pre-program training and orientation as well as on-going supervision throughout the summer.
No, 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 instructions 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 camps each summer and we value sharing community spaces with others, such as the beach.
Specific field trips vary year to year. In recent years, campers have gone to: Museum of Science, Butterfly Garden, Children’s Museum, Franklin Park Zoo, Drumlin Farm, Aquarium, and George’s Island. In addition, we have also asked interactive exhibitions to visit our site, such as a visiting zoo and make-your-own hieroglyphics program.
There is a transportation option available for families living North of Hale Reservation. 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, we offer an extensive opt-in carpool list to support in coordinating transportation.
There are four potential drop-off locations based on where you live and which program you attend. See below.
50 W School St, Charlestown, MA 02129
200 Nahatan St, Westwood, MA 02090
80 Carby St.
If participants bring any electronic devices, including cell phones, MP3 Players, and personal gaming systems, staff will hold onto these items and may set up guidelines for their appropriate use during scheduled breaks and travel times ONLY.
MGH Aspire camp is “nut free” meaning we don’t serve any nut products and require that families refrain from sending any nut products with their children. Note, 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 and will discuss specific concerns/accommodations on a case by case basis.
Aspire staff review health information of each child and make note of special diets or health concerns. A list of allergies and dietary restrictions is posted at each camp site along with how to treat if a child has a reaction. Staff is trained by an MGH nurse on how to administer EPI® pens and inhalers prior to the start of camp.
There is a nurse on site at all times employed by Hale Reservation.
No, we do not currently have any aftercare available at camp. Staff use the afternoons for planning, supervision, and ongoing professional development.
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, a movie, and Nintendo Wii®. All activities continue to focus on our core mission rain or shine. The recent addition of the Simches Family Pavilion has created tremendous potential for us to host engaging, multi-modal programming with a greater number of both small and large indoor spaces.
What To Send to Camp EVERY DAY:
What NOT to Send to Camp:
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.
*MGH Aspire staff are not liable for the loss or damage of the participant’s items.
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