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Like many children his age, the week of summer camp is a time that 12-year-old Justin Bele looks forward to every year. But, unlike other camps, the one at Nemours Children’s Clinic is attended only by children like Justin — children who have cochlear implants, a surgically implanted electronic device to improve listening and spoken language skills.
Four years ago, Catherine Swanson, CCC-SLP/CCC-A, Justin’s Speech Language Pathologist and Audiologist at Nemours Children’s Specialty Care, Jacksonville, recommended that, in addition to his regular schedule of speech therapy, he receive additional, intensive auditory, speech and language therapy during the summer when he was out of school and his family’s schedule was more flexible. Recognizing that there were other children like Justin, the cochlear implant summer camp was born.
For one week each summer these 10 children get together at Nemours and spend the week doing science experiments, playing games and making crafts while working one-on-one with Speech Pathologists. For example, an activity with sidewalk chalk can also turn into a lesson on vocabulary and following multi-step directions.
Justin’s mother, Estella Bele, travels from Daytona each year so that Justin can attend the camp and they stay together at the Ronald McDonald House. Once camp starts, it doesn’t take long for her to notice positive changes in her son.
“I notice the difference right away,” she said. “It gives him a good feeling being around other kids like him. They’re able to support each other. He’ll tell another boy, ‘You did really well with your R’s,’ and they do the same with him,” Estella said.
The campers develop their vocabulary, listening skills, language skills, social skills and engage with other children who also have experienced hearing loss. For many, this is the only opportunity they have to spend time with other children who have gone through similar experiences.
Nell Rosenberg, a speech- language pathologist with Duval County Public Schools, runs the day-to-day activities during the week and works with Swanson to develop activities and lessons to implement. Current and former student clinicians also volunteer their time to spend with the campers.
The camp is free to families and is funded by donations to the Nemours Fund for Children’s Health.
The group enjoys reuniting each year and also getting to know new campers.