Camp Alsing was founded in 2017 to provide a traditional, sleepaway camp experience for campers with high-functioning autism or other social challenges. Three experts in the fields of child and youth development created Camp Alsing. These co-founders each brought a unique perspective to the development of Alsing’s program.
As a 3rd generation owner of Camp Winnebago in Fayette, Maine, Andy Lilienthal brought his extensive experience and detailed knowledge of overnight camping.
Dr. Matthew Siegel, a pediatric psychiatrist and national leader in the fields of autism and child development, believed that in the right “24/7” environment, the therapeutic skills kids might learn in a 1:1 session could be enhanced exponentially at camp. Thus serving to make a more profound impact on a child’s progress and self-esteem.
Emily Chaleff, Alsing’s director, brings 20 years of experience in program and organizational development, an abiding passion for the power of summer camp to build self-confidence, a love of the outdoors and genuine, caring relationships. As Emily tells it, her 13 summers of living and working at summer camps were perhaps the most informative of her life.
Emily, “Dr. Matt” and Andy came together to build a summer program that provided camp experiences for a broader spectrum of campers. Early on, they talked about the challenges that a typical camp program can present for a child who might have attention, anxiety or processing challenges. For example at more traditional camps, campers are often expected to keep track of their own schedules, the shower house can be slimy and cold, the dining hall can be super loud, and campers are often left on their own manage tricky social situations. Emily talks a lot about how these discussions reminded her of girls she knew at camp in the 1980s who couldn’t quite “keep up.” Kids and staff didn’t always understand them, and often these campers either acted out or retreated into their own worlds, feeling alienated and misunderstood. Looking back, the campers would have likely thrived at a camp like Alsing.
In collaboration with talented speech pathologists and social workers, the founders created a program that combined foundational therapeutic curriculums like Social Thinking®, Thinking360™, and anxiety management by Lynn Lyons, LICSW to provide our campers with concrete skills and strategies – all interwoven into a typical camp day. Most of all, camp should be a place to have fun and try new things. While Alsing campers learn these skills and strategies, they spend their days swimming, boating, hiking, singing songs by the fire and doing all the things that should be a part of a traditional camp experience.
What started out as a 2-week program for 20 campers has grown to multiple sessions, serving over 60 campers and counting! In 2019, Alsing proudly presented many of its founding campers with their “3-year pins,” and the tradition continues. Each summer, Alsing welcomes returning campers, as well as new friends who quickly become a valued member of the Alsing community.
Click here to see our founders’ bios and to read more about the people who helped shape our program.