By Tom LaVenture on Aug 7, 2015
The Jamestown Sun

Around 20 children are learning how to be a better friend at Social Skills Camp.

The Anne Carlsen Center hosts the annual two-week camp as one of many across the state to help children improve their social skills with classmates and family members. Counselors and Anne Carlsen Center staff welcomed 10 campers and eight peer volunteers to this year’s camp that ends today.

Camp students range in ages from 5 to 12 and most have a known or suspected autism spectrum disorder diagnosis, said Adie Hobert, a special education teacher at Anne Carlsen Center, and the lead teacher of Social Skills Camp. They learn about personal space, independent skills and how to behave in a vehicle or in a public setting.

“We provide instruction and the basic tools for them to do better and to be successful in social situations,” Hobert said, noting that the kids tend to be more solitary individuals and need to learn how to reciprocate in a conversation.

Children want to talk, she said, and they want to tell people about the movie, but sometimes they need to learn how to give and take and ask others what they thought of the movie.

Ryder Koch, 11, Jamestown, has attended the camp for the past three years and now serves as an assistant. He said it comes naturally just being one of the older kids and he likes the role.

“I think it’s fun,” Koch said. “You learn to be a good friend and just the good skills you have to have in life like don’t be selfish, and if you have friends don’t be mean to them and to do what they want to do too.”

Koch said the days are filled with activities, arts and crafts and field trips like going to the park. It will wind up with a trip to Bison 6 Cinema today where the kids can put their social skills to practice.

“You help people and they help you,” Koch said.

[quote_center]“We are working together to do something.”[/quote_center]

Hobert said with each year there is a different theme that supports the overall social-skills goals. Last year it was a “super flex” curriculum that used a superhero approach to making and keeping friends.

“This year we are using the series of books by Julia Cook,” Hobert said. “Each story speaks specifically to a particular social skill.”

After reading the book “Soda Pop Head,” which uses humor to help kids learn how not to “blow their top” when angry, Hobert said the kids used science to reinforce coping skills and had some fun with soda, scotch mints and canvas.

“We made erupting art,” she said.

Proper social skills are part of the classroom environment, but it is more often implied than taught, Hobert said. The camp reinforces the school experience but it also builds understanding and teaches the tools to think of others, with special attention to children with autism, spectrum disorders and other special needs where social barriers come to the forefront.

Trinity Lutheran Church made space available for the camp, Hobert said. It was the right environment to set up the games and the Tumbl Trak equipment, she said.

Student helpers, counselors and volunteers help the children act out scenarios that involve interaction, Hobert said. Field trips offer a chance to depend on a friend, be part of a group and interact with the public.

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