In the heart of the summer, FIRST Camp takes place annually at Waban’s TREE Center. This is a very moving and inspiring weekend communication camp for children who use augmentative Picture1devices to communicate. It’s also for their parents. For 2015, FIRST Camp took place on the weekend of July 31-Aug 2, with 13 campers and 18 parents attending and participating in activities surrounding the theme of “The Game of Clue.”

FIRST stands for Functional Interaction Recreation and Socialization with Technology.

This year’s FIRST Camp also had the benefit of 4 grad students who worked one-on-one with the campers and UNH Professor Rae Sonnenmier who led a discussion about the key topics that would be beneficial in teaching her students who will be working with parents and children when they graduate. Sonnenmier also took the opportunity to work directly with campers as well.

Parents attended several informational sessions while children enjoyed typical summer camp activities with support from one-on-one staff and speech therapists. Sessions included core vocabulary, device tips, behaviors, and functional communication using AAC (Alternative and Augmentative Communication). The emphasis of FIRST Camp is on using “core vocabulary words” which are the words they need for life.

Picture2Special activities designed for a wider age range meant younger campers and their parents were able to join in on Saturday for a full day of activities and parent conferences.  This day concluded with a boat ride and awards for Saturday campers.  The weekend culminated with a scavenger hunt that led the campers around the grounds finding and sorting out clues to figure out what was taken, from where, and “who done it” like the Game of Clue.

FIRST Camp is provided by Mark Hammond Associates, Inc. of Portland, Biddeford, Sanford and Augusta, ME and Waban Projects, Inc. of Sanford, ME. Hammond says, “FIRST Camp was developed to help children, who use communication devices as their primary means to communicate, to improve their ability to socially interact.  Campers are typically at a level where they can produce sentences with their devices and need to improve their social interaction skills.”

Mark R. Hammond Associates is a speech and hearing center serving the communication and hearing needs of children and adults in southern and central Maine, and providing a comprehensive continuum of speech-language pathology and audiology services to meet the needs of each individual referred. These services include:  prevention, identification, evaluation, consultation, treatment, referral and education. Find out more about Mark R. Hammond Associates at

Waban is a non-profit community-based agency located in Sanford, Maine which provides high quality services to children and adults with intellectual/developmental and other disabilities, with a broad offering of comprehensive services that span the life cycle. Services include:  Residential, Case Management, Child Development, Summer Camp, Day Habilitation and Work Services. Learn more about Waban at

Many thanks to the organizations who sponsored FIRST Camp 2015:  USSAAC, Semantic Compaction Systems, PRC, Mark R Hammond Associates and Waban.


“Often AAC device users are the only ones in their communities that use an alternative communication tool. Camp provides these people with an opportunity to communicate with others who are “speaking their language.” Since they use similar language systems, the campers are able to help each other use their devices and teach their peers funny things to say. Families also have an opportunity to participate in a device immersion session, where their voices are turned off, and they are only allowed to communicate using their child’s device. Following this session, parents commented, ‘wow, this is hard!’, and ‘we are proud of how hard you have worked to learn to communicate’.”   Katelyn Penna


Picture4“I always am amazed by how each year the returning campers and families take what they learn and apply it and how much we notice improvement from year to year. Some of the younger less experienced campers become the teachers to their peers and families!”  Havah Tewksbury


“I always enjoy the end of the evening around the campfire after a day of scheduled activities and focused work by campers, parents, presenters and support staff.  Everyone sits back, relaxes and chats.  And this is when I see the campers spontaneously use their AAC device and enjoy conversation with friends.  Here they are able to interact, sing through programing the device, laugh and chat around the campfire, being heard and hearing others.”  Ann Rossignol