Best Practices in Behavior Analysis, LLC combined forces (literally) with Lisa Searls, a Certified Behavior Analyst and director of Motivating Change, LLC to implement a social skills camp in Parsippany for children with high functioning special needs.
We set out to target kids who may find a typical camp too overwhelming but would benefit from the experience of interacting with typical peers. What this program actually resulted in was far more than that! By the second day of camp, Lisa and I looked at each other and said “All of these kids are benefiting.” In fact that became our common hashtag. #allkidsbenefit.
A typical day at camp
Everyday we had a plan, a schedule. That typically started the moment the campers arrived. They participated in a “Get to know my friends” activity. That would range from a physical outdoor exercise to a paper and pencil activity such as, interviewing a friend. Then the campers were assigned into teams. Each day the teams would change. The teams were given a Game Board (actually that was a behavior intervention, but they didn’t know that). Throughout the day, the campers would move up on their game board for following the directions, participating in the group, helping a friend, trying something new, and many other positive social behaviors.
Lesson of the day
We had a lesson of the day that focused on a specific social skills such as; complimenting others, coping with different emotions, and maintaining a conversation. Throughout the day, there were many team building activities. The campers played group games and board games. We also practiced prerequisite academic skills in fluency instruction. The campers practiced math, spelling, and reading fluency in 30 second timings. They recorded their own data on these skills. The campers also recorded data on the new food tasting we had daily. We accomplished so much in a week. We were thrilled when most campers returned for the last week of the program.
What did the kids learn?
Lisa and I were so impressed with all of the campers every day. Each kid worked on his/her own academic level. Each kid made improvements in his/her social interactions. We saw their confidence and self-esteem grow throughout the week. They started coaching and cheering on each other. They would model for each other. They praised each other. They talked to each other. We called the camp “Kids Connecting with Kids” a few times. We implemented this camp for three weeks. We are already planning for next summer. We are looking to have this camp for five weeks. We are excited to expand and offer this program to more kids.
The Camp Teachers
Lisa and I met at Teachers College at Columbia University. We had instantly made a connection. We had worked in the field of autism and behavior analysis before attending the CABAS program at Columbia. We were some of the “older students” who were not coming into the program straight from undergraduate degree. We were both born and raised in New Jersey and avid runners. It was a great match! Our first year at Columbia in NYC was September 2001. Our first day of our internship was 9/11. It was an intense year living and working in the city. We both really supported each other and were so proud that we had so much success in the program. Since graduating from the program, we have become friends and huge supporters of each other’s careers.
Lisa Searls, BCBA, Motivating Change, LLC
Lisa has been working in the field of applied behavior analysis since 1994. After graduating from Teachers College, she worked for CABAS in Ireland for almost a year. After her experience in Ireland, she became the first full time BCBA in a NJ public school district. She currently still works there. There are now three other BCBA’s on her team. A few years ago, she started consulting at another public school and was their first behaviorist.
Lisa has a love for health and fitness and incorporates that into her student’s day. She has multiple fitness certifications including, Kids and Teen Fitness Instructor, Cycling Instructor, Primary Aerobic Instructor; all through the American Aerobic Association International and International Sports Medicine Association. She also runs her own boot camp which includes teaching 4 classes a week and one is a TRX class (Total Body Resistance Exercise). Recently she started her own consulting agency, Motivating Change. You can find her on Instagram at lisearlsMC.
Stasia Hansen, BCBA, Best Practices in Behavior Analysis, LLC
I also started my career in behavior analysis in 1994. I attended Rutgers University and worked at the Douglas Developmental Disabilities Center as field worker. I was an BCaBA in 2000, through the Penn State certification program. Since graduating from Columbia, I have worked in three public schools as their first behaviorist, establishing the district’s ABA program. I have also joined the teams of BCBA’s in other school districts. I currently work in one public school with a team of four dedicated behaviorists. I also work in multiple homes, providing family training and establishing home programs. My agency Best Practices in Behavior Analysis was established in 2014 and I have a team of behaviorists who provide behavior consulting to private schools in northern New Jersey. I recently became certified in Organizational Behavior Management through Florida Institute of Technology.
My focus over the last few years has been to establish a social skills camp. This is where Lisa and I began to collaborate again. Lisa had initiated this camp in PA three years ago. She had a few campers and the main focus was practicing social pragmatics and fluency-based instruction. When we started to create the vision for Kids Helping Kids in Morris County, we added other goals and activities. This camp was years in the making. It was an idea, an attempt, a goal, a plan, a reality, and then a success! Lisa and I continually called our working relationship a “perfect collaboration.”
An Inclusive Leadership Program
Throughout all of our years in the field we have often said that we “just want to implement what we know how to do.” This camp gave us both the opportunity to implement the strategies for all of the campers. The camp includes group instruction with individualized attention. There was meaningful and successful inclusion. And most importantly, the kids had fun; all of the campers! The last day of camp was like any other camp. We had a few campers sad to say goodbye to their friends. We had kids exchanging Fortnite user names to connect with each other. Parents asked us “When will you do this again?”
We already are working on expanding the program to 5 weeks. We also know that this camp isn't going to be exclusively for children with special needs. It is a program that promotes confidence in oneself, joy in working in a group, cooperation, and leadership among ALL kids. #allkidsbenefit.