CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A free four-day summer camp helping non-verbal and autistic children better communicate has now expanded in its second year.

After Exceptional Possibilities of West Virginia started last year with just three founders–three teachers and co-workers from a Kanawha County elementary school– and a smaller group of students, one of the three founders, Morgan Goodall said others around the region started to take notice of how the summer camp was helping to meet a need.

Goodall said the camp, that’s being held at the University of Charleston this week, is now receiving the help from volunteers from Marshall University, West Virginia University’s Center for Excellence in Disabilities, and students studying to become special education teachers and speech pathologists. They all are teaming up with the program founders to help children with verbal deficits continue to learn more communication and social skills while they are out of school.

She said they were also able to have more students with disabilities participating in the camp this year.

Goodall said in addition, they received a grant of $5,500 from the Greater Kanawha Valley Foundation which has enabled them to provide the kids with more toys and resources, sensory activities and more field trips, all crucial aspects of their communication skill-learning journey.

She said it’s great to see the program continue to grow and the hard work it takes in putting it on pay off.

“We’re thankful that it has worked out for two years in a row, and we’re thankful for the overwhelming amount of support we’ve received,” Goodall said. “It’s fun to see your hard work pay off and to see moments of kids doing something that they may have not been able to do before.”

Everyday of the week, Goodall said they focus on two “core words” with the kids and they practice using those words with them throughout the day. She said they play games with them involving the words and at the end of the week, they will recap all of the words they have learned.

“Today we are practicing “play” and “stop,” she said. “And so we have a wonderful music teacher in there that came in and volunteered her time as well to play instruments and let our kids play instruments and we’re practicing “play and stop.”

Goodall said they will also take the kids on different field trips around Charleston to put the communication and social skills they are learning into practice out in the real world.

“We will go to local restaurants and practice communicating, ordering your own food, saying hello to your friends, social skills,” she said.

She said they plan to go to Target and hold a scavenger hunt where the kids will be tasked with finding items around the store as well going shopping. Goodall said they will also make their way into downtown Charleston and make another visit to Ellen’s Ice Cream like they did last year, and ride on the KRT.

She said all of these trips will help the kids practice utilizing those core words they learn within those different environments.

In addition, a parent workshop for the parents and guardians of the non-verbal children attending the camp was being held on Tuesday.

Another of the three co-founders of Exceptional Possibilities and speech pathologist Michelle Robinson was sitting in on that workshop Tuesday. She said this year they felt it was necessary to have something for the parents in addition to the camp for the kids.

“The workshop for parents is providing them with information on how to advocate for their child in the school system, in addition to providing them with information that could better serve their child,” she said.

Parent workshop

Robinson said the parent workshop Tuesday included a presentation from the WVU Center for Excellence in Disabilities on communication devices within the Individualized Education Program for their child, or IEP.

It also included presentations from WVABLE, who provides opportunities for savings accounts for those with an eligible disability, the West Virginia Assistive Technology System regarding assistive technology that’s available in the state for those with disabilities, and concluded with a talk from the West Virginia Parent Training and Information non-profit.

Robinson said the workshop provides a way to better assist parents as they navigate the challenges in better helping their children with disabilities.

“It’s important for parents so they know the services and the opportunities that are available for their loved ones and know how to advocate for their children and adults,” said Robinson.

Goodall said after looking into opportunities and resources available for non-verbal individuals across other states, they realized there really wasn’t a program before that is like Exceptional Possibilities in West Virginia.

She said after starting out small with just a group of a few kids, the support they have received in helping grow the program to new levels really reflects the overall need for it.

“We wanted to bring in more people like today and just make it bigger, and teach parents the resources that they have and teach parents what their children are capable of,” said Goodall. “They are capable of going to a restaurant and ordering their own food and you know, advocating for themselves, and that’s what we’re trying to teach.”

The summer camp will be held at UC until Friday. Last year for its first year, the camp was held at the Kanawha County Public Library.

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