Camp Yakety Yak teaches special needs children and their peers tools to build friendships and boost self-confidence
by: Jaime Valdez Campers learn how to monitor their emotions and communicate feelings with others while taking part in fun activities with their new friends during the Camp Yakety Yak session at St. Matthew Lutheran Church.

Camp Yakety Yak is arming special needs children and their young peers with the superpower of flexibility this summer.

With the help of Superflex, a superhero who battles a bothersome group of Unthinkables who pop up in the mind, summer campers are learning how to work through their emotions in what could be stressful situations and get back to having fun and trying new things.

'We teach the kids about characters that get into their brain and make it hard for them to make friendships,' explained Angela Arterberry, a speech pathologist who started Camp Yakety Yak last summer. 'Glassman makes people have huge reactions. Rock Brain makes people get stuck on ideas.'

Using the Superflex social thinking curriculum by Stephanie Madrigal and Michelle Garcia Winner, Arterberry and her team of caring camp counselors are providing valuable lessons for children with autism, Asperger's syndrome, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and other challenges.

These lessons are integrated into fun activities, which allow campers to improve their social skills and behaviors that in some cases have blocked them from making friends or prevented them from participating in other summer programs in the past.

'My son Ethan has ADHD,' Arterberry said. 'He is part of the reason I started this camp.

'He would get kicked out of other camps because he would start refusing to follow directions or get emotionally upset too quickly. They couldn't deal with his behavior or have the trained staff to help him.'

Ethan was left feeling confused and misunderstood - not the summer experience his mother wanted for him. That is no longer the case for the 8-year-old at Camp Yakety Yak, where he has the individualized attention and encouragement he needs while building relationships with 'typical' campers and special needs children alike.

'Everybody is a role model in a different way,' Arterberry said. 'Their siblings and new friends are modeling participation and a positive attitude.'

Providing children with a chance to belong, explore technology, experiment in science and study the world of animals motivated Arterberry to expand Camp Yakety Yak this summer into three sessions. The first took place at St. Matthew Lutheran Church in Beaverton; the second is taking place now through Aug. 4 at Bethany Lutheran Church; and the third will be held Aug. 15-25 at Hope Community Church in Lake Oswego.

'As the mother of a child with sensory processing disorder, I was delighted to discover Camp Yakety Yak,' said Kelli Robeson of Southwest Portland. 'I cannot describe the relief I felt when I learned about Camp Yakety Yak, a summer camp program that embraces - not just tolerates - my son.'

The camp has also earned the stamp of approval from its young campers.

Logan Greger, a fourth-grader at Hiteon Elementary School, was out of breath after running outside with his friends.

'It's great - awesome,' the 9-year-old said of Camp Yakety Yak. 'The staff helps discuss my problems with me and helps teach me new things.

'In the project room, I even got to take apart a Kodak camera and see all the gears, crank shift, lenses and bolts inside. It feels great to go to camp because I learn rules that prepare me to do bigger and bigger things.'

Before heading back out to his next adventure, Greger leaned forward in his chair. 'I have something to confess - I have autism,' he said at the end of his interview. With that, he reached out on his own and offered his hand for a firm handshake. 'Thank you for your time.'

Like Greger, 10-year-old Brynn Avery was enjoying her camp experience.

'I made friends, and it's very fun,' the Bridlemile Elementary School fifth-grader said. 'It's kinda just what I wanted for my summer.

'I've learned how to be like Superflex and how to be flexible. Sometimes before, it was hard to calm down. Now, I'm quite better. I am happy and know I can handle things if I just try my best.'

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