Social Thinking at Camp Firefly

Social Thinking at Camp Firefly
by Ali Katz, Camp Firefly Counselor

At Camp Firefly we have found that the Social Thinking® approach, developed by Michelle Garcia Winner, has proven to be the most appropriate for our recreational camp therapy model, and best for meeting the needs of our campers.

Social Thinking® has been described as a way of thinking flexibly about every unique situation and person whom we encounter.  It is not necessarily an approach for teaching basic social skills, but a way to engage a child, teen or adult in initiating and responding to interactions that instill confidence, happiness and success!

The Social Thinking® approach has various models which help to understand how to tailor strategies for teaching flexible thinking.  One such model is called the ILAUGH® model.  It is an acronym that describes the skills needed to be successful within social interactions.

  • I = Initiation of Communication using effective language skills
  • L = Listening with Eyes and Brain to both observe and hear the responses from others
  • A = Abstract and Inferential Language for understanding the nuances of idioms, metaphors, sarcasm, etc.
  • U = Understanding Perspective by taking into account another person's thoughts, emotions, beliefs, personality, etc.
  • G = Getting the Big Picture and staying focused on a central theme rather than getting caught up in the details
  • H = Humor and Human Relations to understand that everyone makes mistakes in social interactions and humor can help us make light of those pesky faux pas 

A Counselor's Perspective

A friend once asked, "Why do you have strands of yarn tied to your ankle?" For me, the answer was simple - they have meaning and significance, but at the time I couldn't exactly put into words.

These strands of yarn are from one of my favorite, and most impactful activities at Camp Firefly--the Communication Web.  The activity goes a little something like this:

There is a ball of yarn that needs to be unraveled, but can only be undone through conversation. The ball represents a conversation, comment, question or topic. The ball can only be passed if someone else has something to add or share. So let's say you're talking about camp, the only way for the ball to be passed and unraveled is if someone else can make a connection and talk about that topic. The point of the game is to have a fluid conversation, which often can be a struggle for a child with autism or other social disorders.

The strings on my ankle represent a conversation I had with a camper using the yarn activity, illustrating his growth and improvement over the summer.  He really struggled with interpersonal relationships and social conversation.

One day, this camper took a new step and asked me a personal question. Curiously, he asked his question and I handed him the yarn. We went back and forth, talking to each other.  The turns started to grow into full-length sentences, included with commentary, questions and excitement about what we were saying. It was nearing the end of camp when this happened, and I could see the change in perspective the camper had about conversing and forming relationships.

When all of the string was unraveled, I asked him if he thought we should keep pieces of the string to remember our conversation--he seemed to love the idea. From this activity, the camper gained confidence as well as understanding in having a conversation about someone else’s interests. 

So to answer my friend’s question – “Why do I have yarn tied to my ankle?‟ Well, I keep it there as a converation starter, but most importantly, it reminds me of this proud moment and my life changing experience at Camp Firefly.

Camp Firefly is about having fun and learning at the same time. It is a place for kids with special needs to utilize their surroundings and environment to have a fulfilling experience. The staff is there to support them in whatever they want to do. Whether that means rock climbing, swimming in the deep end, kayaking or just making an art project, we are there to guide them in their fun.  At the end of the day, the campers come together in song and dance to celebrate the amazing, individualized opportunities they have at Camp Firefly. 

Camp Firefly is a unique, life-enriching camp designed for children and teens aged 9-18 with Asperger's, social anxiety, autism and other social disorders. 

Call 855.275.5237 to register today, or visit for more information. Camp Firefly is a program of JCFS Chicago and JCC Camp Chi.