Camp Yes And: An Improv Camp
for Teens with ASD and Teachers
Rachel Hopf, MA, SLP-CF, Graduate Assistant
and Jim Ansaldo, PhD
Following a successful first-round in 2015, the Center for Education and Lifelong Learning and the Indiana Resource Center for Autism at the Indiana Institute on Disability and Community again partnered to bring back Indiana University’s Camp Yes And (https://yesand.indiana.edu/). This year, the camp doubled its impact by offering a week of camp in both Bloomington and Indianapolis. Camp Yes And is a five-day improv summer camp designed to support both teens with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and educators to develop essential communication skills. During each morning of camp, teachers learn the techniques of improv and their application to supporting youth on the spectrum. Each afternoon, teachers and camp leaders co-facilitate an improv camp for teens on the spectrum.
Camp Yes And employs the highly regarded Connect Improv curriculum developed by Lacy Alana, LCSW, the Building Connections Program Director at the Hideout Theatre in Austin, Texas (Building Connections).Theatrical improvisation, popularly known in the U.S. as “improv,” is a form of drama in which plot, character, and setting are created during the moment of performance. At camp, teens and teachers participate in improv games and exercises that reinforce five key skills: Listening, Accepting, Supporting, Taking Competent Risks, and Letting Go of Mistakes.
Improv also creates a safe, supportive, and authentic context in which to practice key elements of the communication cycle. Each activity supports participants to engage in “Yes, And-ing,” a cycle of communication in which one player initiates an interaction by making an offer, and fellow players are challenged to become aware of the offer, accept it, and add to it. By repeating this cycle, teens and teachers spontaneously co-create characters, settings, and plots. The camp structure simultaneously supports teens with ASD to build social communication skills and provides a professional learning opportunity for teachers, who are able to develop new skills through practice, feedback, and coaching.
Attendees at this year’s camp consisted primarily of special education teachers, speech-language pathologists, and improvisers who were intrigued by how their trade is used to help others enhance communication skills. Keegan Koehlinger, MS, CCC-SLP, one of Camp Yes And’s teachers, remarked after camp:
“As a speech language pathologist, I’ve spent a lot of time doing social skills groups where we want to teach kids how to use better eye contact, how to say hello, how to greet people, how to take conversational turns, and what I’ve noticed is that that’s kind of lame. Kids don’t always get engaged in that cause it’s really hard, but what’s awesome about Camp Yes And and improv is that we’re kind of teaching them these skills in a sneaky way and never before have I worked in a group with teens or a big group of individuals on the spectrum where they’re engaged, and they are working on things and doing things I never thought they’d do otherwise. So for me, it’s been awesome to see that level of engagement that I don’t think I would have seen in your typical social skills group setting.”
Other teachers reported that the camp enhanced their classroom management skills, offered valuable tools and resources for teaching social skills, and reestablished their own sense of play. Additionally, Camp Yes And deepened teachers’ perspectives of teens with ASD. One such teacher commented, “Several times this week, I found myself wishing I was more like them. They are brilliant, courageous, and compassionate, topped with a sense of humor. I knew that, but didn't realize the magnitude. I believe I have a whole new level of respect for them.”
practice and analyze the components of each improvisational game
prior to the afternoon arrival of the teens.
Although persons with ASD desire friendships, difficulty with social skills as well as anxiety often bar the development and maintenance of relationships, leading to isolation and victimization (Bauminger & Kasari, 2000; Carrington, Templeton, & Papinczak, 2003, Lawson, 2001, and Rowley et al., 2012). With this in mind, Camp Yes And strives to create a safe, supportive, and authentic environment in which teens and teachers interact with one another. Following camp, one teen remarked, “… I was in a time where I was really shy. I was bullied at school. I was going through a lot of stuff, and I think camp just perfected the way I talked and the way I connected with other people, and I felt like I wasn’t shy here. And it gave me a safe home, a safe haven.” While Camp Yes And teens were eager to comment on the fun they had learning improv, they also seriously reflected on changes to their flexibility, initiation, listening, and conversational skills. Another teen noted, “The camp experience has made it easier for me to communicate with my peers. I think I will be able to stay on topic more when I have conversations. I also will be using the tools I learned in Camp Yes. I had a very fun time meeting new people. I hope I go to this camp next year."
On the last day of each camp, teens and teachers participated in an improv showcase open to the public. Many parents saw their sons and daughters performing for the first time and agreed that camp had positively changed how they view their teen, referring to them as more independent and as leaders. After their camp experience, teachers confirmed that they will be integrating camp techniques into their own classrooms and caseloads in the coming school year. Teens left the improv stage with improved self-esteem, new experiences, and budding friendships. This multi-tiered impact has given the directors hope that Camp Yes And will continue to grow by including monthly Saturday classes as well as future summer camps.
Camp Yes And was made possible by a number of generous organizations and individuals. Grants support was provided by Answers for Autism (http://answersautism.org/) and the Summer Youth Program Fund Indianapolis (http://www.summeryouthprogramfund-indy.org/). Fundraising events were held by CSz Indianapolis (http://indycomedysportz.com/) and Next Generation Personal Training (https://www.wemeltyou.com/). Numerous individuals made donations through the Indiana University Foundation’s Fundly site (https://iufoundation.fundly.com/improvsummercampforautisticteensandteachers). Research on camp outcomes was partially funded by the Office of the Vice Provost of Research (http://ovpr.indiana.edu/) at Indiana University Bloomington through the Collaborative Research and Creative Activity Funding Award. Many thanks to all of our supporters!
To donate to Camp Yes And, there are two options:
1. Visit https://myiu.org/one-time-gift, enter the word “theater” into the “Search all funds” box, select “Indiana Institute on Disability and Community Theater Camp Fund,” and click “Next.”
2. Mail a check and reference the account name “Indiana Institute on Disability and Community Theater Camp Fund”. Address:
Post Office Box 6460
Indianapolis, IN 46206-6460
Bauminger, N., & Kasari, C. (2000). Loneliness and friendship in high functioning children with autism. Child Development, 71, 447–456.
Carrington, S., Templeton, E., & Papinczak, T. (2003). Adolescents with Asperger syndrome and perceptions of friendship. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, 18, 211–218.
Lawson, W. (2001). Life behind glass: A personal account of autism spectrum disorder. London: Jessica Kingsley.
Rowley, E., Chandler, S., Baird, G., Simonoff, E., Pickles, A., Loucas, T., & Charman, T. (2012). The experience of friendship, victimization and bullying in children with an autism spectrum disorder: Associations with child characteristics and school placement. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 6 (3), 1126-1134.
Ansaldo, J., & Hopf, R. (2016). Camp Yes And: An improv camp for teens and teachers. The Reporter, 21 (6). Retrieved from https://www.iidc.indiana.edu/pages/camp-yes-and-an-improv-camp-for-teens-with-asd-and-teachers