Running Adventure Camp During a Pandemic

Our AC 2020 Story

When the pandemic hit the US in March 2020, we all wondered what would happen and how it would all unfold, and what would happen to Adventure Camp. Should we cancel it? Keep going? Is it safe? After many thoughtful discussions and watchful eyes on Illinois' five-phase reopening plan, it was decided to continue because:

    • Children with selective mutism who were receiving supports in school were either no longer receiving those supports or those supports were limited as of March 2020.
    • Some of our patients were just beginning to transfer their clinic treatment gains into the school setting, and some were just beginning their treatment journeys, only to be interrupted. We all sprung to action with telehealth, but being out of school and practicing social distancing with sheltering at home led to many worries about how reintegrating into school in the fall will go, whether with virtual learning or in-person learning.
    • This made Adventure Camp even more important, especially for children with selective mutism and social anxiety; not only were they working on their phobia of speaking, NOW they had to talk loud enough to be heard through the mask.
    • At the time, it was unclear if schools would resume in person or virtually. If schools resumed in person, we knew that wearing masks all day was a possibility. 
    • Many having quarantined since March, running Adventure Camp would allow children 1:1 therapeutic support while they resumed being with people again. To someone without kids with selective mutism or social anxiety, this may be a hard concept to understand or appreciate. But to parents of children with selective mutism and social anxiety, it was very easy to understand that their children, already sensitive to their environment, could benefit from being eased into what everyone was calling the “new normal” of what school would look like in the fall. We recognized that our SM kids would need to:  
            • Become accustomed to being in a mask all day. 
            • Practice speaking through a mask.
            • Get accustomed to seeing plexiglass on the desks and other areas.
            • Getting accustomed to seeing others in masks, which if you recall from your first trip out, was (as one kiddo put it) “weird” to see.
            • Become more aware of safety procedures to follow, such as using your sleeve to open a door, washing hands frequently, keeping hands off face/nose/eyes, using hand sanitizers, etc. Being home since March, the kids weren’t getting this practice. Being at Adventure Camp would give them the practice and the 1:1 therapeutic support to boot
            • Be able to say when they don’t feel well. 

The last point here was the clincher for us at ATSA - these are kids who may have difficulty advocating for themselves because of their behavioral inhibition and phobia of talking. It felt even more important than ever before to ensure we provide the kids with exposure therapy through Adventure Camp, especially because what was to come with schools was still up in the air. So we decided that we would do all we could to make Adventure Camp happen.

Precautions Taken to Run Adventure Camp 2020

We gathered information from the parents who had already enrolled their children in January and February, discussed concerns with parents, and ultimately decided that we would move forward with Adventure Camp 2020. These are the steps we took to make sure we were sensitive to parents’ concerns as well as compliant with the CDC recommendations so we could run AC 2020 safely:

        • Parents agreed to a deadline to make the decision to either keep their child enrolled or withdraw their child and receive a full refund. 
        • Our motto for AC 2020: “We Always Find A Way!” 
        • To encourage a growth mindset, we explicitly told the children what we would have done pre-COVID for our exposure tasks, and what we are doing instead during COVID: “We can’t go to Dunkin Donuts to order our donut, so we arranged for Dunkin Donuts to come to us! We always find a way!”
        • To acknowledge the growth that comes with barriers, we explicitly pointed out the new experiences we discovered because of having to shift sets due to COVID: “Since we need to do outdoor field trips this year, we found Go Ape! So, it’s a good thing that we had to think out of our usual routine!”
        • We encouraged the children to have self-compassion and to try, without being tied to the outcome; it may be uncomfortable or feel uncertain, but we can try, and that feels good, too. “Be kind to yourself for trying new things.”
        • Our Camp t-shirt was updated to show a masked superhero punching COVID-19!

The Outcome

We completed a successful Adventure Camp 2020! All children met the verbal goals of responding verbally in our class simulation as well as on social outings to the community. They all handled wearing their masks all day with so few problems, it was impressive! They all understood the limitations to hearing them through the mask, and they handled repeating themselves louder and louder until they were heard. In addition to practicing presenting in front of the class, answering teacher questions, and small group work, they also practiced social interaction and peer-to-peer initiations (e.g., asking a peer if they want to play). Overall, the children showed improvement from baseline to end of camp. 

In the fall, some children returned to school in person, some with a hybrid in-person and virtual classroom, and some all virtual. We met individually with their school team, gave them the progress update on how far their student reached with their verbal communication goals in Adventure Camp, and discussed ways to continue progress in school. For parents who requested a school exposure, we successfully passed the verbal baton from us to the teacher, which was done either virtually or in person, so that the student could start school being verbal. 

What We Learned

With exposure therapy, it is important to reflect back and think about what was learned. For us, we thought about our fears with running AC and, even though the pandemic has interfered with many parts of our lives, we felt it was important not to put a hold on any child’s treatment. We have learned that we can be more flexible than we ever thought we could, and that no matter what, “We Always Find a Way!”

What to Expect for Adventure Camp 2021

Our plan as it stands right now in Nov 2020 is to continue on with Adventure Camp 2021. We are hopeful that with a new year comes new changes and opportunities, and hopefully a vaccine to COVID-19. We will continue to monitor the situation closely, as we did for AC 2020, and will keep updates listed below.


Important Dates for AC 2022

Early Registration: January 20, 2022 at 10am central

General Registration: January 27, 2022 at 10am central

Lead-Ins: July 12 - 28, 2021

Parent Training: July 30, 2022 9:30am - 12pm

Camp: August 1 - August 5, 2021, 9am-3pm daily

Register Now!


Missed camp? We can still help

We offer outpatient sessions in the clinic, school, and the community year round to treat children with selective mutism. Call 630-230-6505 for an intake appointment or email

Adventure Camp Flag

We did it!

AC 2020 Team - We did it!

Starfish arms for safe distance.

Starfish ArmsStarfish arms for safe distance

6ft spaced seating for circle time ...

6-ft spaced seating for circle time

... and desks spaced out 6 feet apart for the older kids.

Spaced out desks in classroom 2

Plexiglass between counselor and camper.

Counselor and camper with plexiglass between

Spaced-out seating on the bus ...

Spaced out seating on the bus....

... to cool field trip locations outdoors!

Water balloon launch

Walking the planks at Go Ape



Next Intensive Group Therapy: Adventure Camp 2024

45 days 9 hours until camp begins. Only 0 slot(s) left

Monday, July 29 - Aug 2, 2024


Camp Registration

Adventure Camp 2021 Five-Day Intensive Group will take place Aug 2 - 6, 2021

Early Registration for current patients is January 21, 2021 at 10am central

General Registration is January 29, 2021 at 10am central

Make an appointment now so your child is eligible for early registration

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Meet our Counselors

AC 2020 Counselors

AC 2020 Counselors

Adventure Camp Team

Adventure Camp vs. "Usual and Customary"

Adventure Camp Usual and Customary Therapy
$115/hr x 38hrs $180 - $240/hr x 35 hrs
$4,370 $6,300 - $8,400
1 week (saved 7.25 months of time) 30 weeks (7 1/2 months)
See gains quicker Takes longer to see gains
Classroom Simulation, Group Setting Office Setting
Carryover effects into school is more likely Less carryover effect into school