Summer adventures. Life connections.

Enroll now for summer camps!

Our camps provide an exciting choice of activities, from video production to habitat restoration to art. With these as a foundation, our master’s level counselors help campers build confidence and connect to new friends.

AGE-BASED CAMPS: Outdoor games, field trips and habitat restoration projects (with a $15 internship stipend).

THEME-BASED CAMPSShared-interest activities as a forum for students to practice new skills (divided by age).

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New to Aspiring Youth? Schedule your free enrollment meeting now.

Through our eyes: School

The “Through our eyes” series invites you to hear and learn from the perspectives of young adults in our community living with autism, Asperger’s, ADHD, learning disabilities or other social challenges.

Asperger’s (along with other autism spectrum disorders) sometimes come in a nice little package along with ADD/HD, depression and social anxiety. And, naturally, these did impact my school life. I always struggled with focusing and developing my social skills the most.

I went to a Montessori school until I was twelve, so kids had to do hands-on education where we would sometimes scatter across the classroom to work on one math assignment, one reading assignment, one writing assignment and one “other” or elective. We wrote all of our progress on a little worksheet of what we did. Because I was so easily distracted, whether it was because someone making noise or because I was spacing out too much, I didn’t always finish my work, so sometimes I would have to stay inside during recess to finish it.

I did have friends (or at least, acquaintances) that I got along with, but because I got nervous and didn’t know how to behave around my peers, I would try to spend time with people outside my age group. I guess it was because that they were more patient around me and understood some of what I was going through in life, so I could rely on them for advice.

I hopped around from service to service trying to “alleviate” the problem, but nothing ever really worked until my college years. I was in something called the Autism Spectrum Navigation Program (ASN for short) at Bellevue College. I’m not really sure how, but having a navigation assistant and taking classes on things like self-advocacy and job hunting for people on the spectrum really helped me be more responsible about school.

School life wasn’t horrible though. Since I have a fixation on creative writing, English class was always my best subject. I was always excited when my teachers in middle and high school announced an assignment involving creative writing or using a favorite movie or game as the subject of a compare and contrast essay. I also managed to avoid hanging out with kids my age that would have obviously been a bad influence on me.

Currently, I am on course to graduate in the fall of this year with an Associates Degree in Digital Media Arts (which is basically an umbrella term for video production, video games, animation, graphic design etc.). I am really glad that despite my challenges, I have been able to make it this far. I’m really looking forward to the future outside of school.

If your student is having trouble focusing in school or building lasting friendships, consider Aspiring Youth’s programs for children and teens such as our social skills groups or individual tutoring.


Sara Breidenbach is an intern helping with Aspiring Youth summer camps. She is also a student at Bellevue College where she will graduate with an Associates Degree in Digital Media Arts in the fall of 2016.

Through our eyes: Discussing autism

The “Through our eyes” series invites you to hear and learn from the perspectives of young adults in our community living with autism, Asperger’s, ADHD, learning disabilities or other social challenges.

I usually never tell people that I’m on the autism spectrum (specifically that I have Asperger’s Syndrome) unless it’s relevant to the situation.

For instance, when someone makes a passing comment about the spectrum and the conversation goes from there. Or when I’m at school or work and need to advocate for myself for certain reasons. And yet, it seems that almost every time that I tell people I’m on the spectrum, they seem surprised.

“You don’t act like you have Asperger’s,” they say.

“You seem pretty social for a person on the spectrum,” they say.

I’m not entirely sure if they’re just saying that to be nice or if they really mean it, but it’s a pet peeve of mine. But I also need to remind myself that some people don’t understand the autism spectrum and that getting annoyed isn’t going to help.

But the fact remains: yes, I was diagnosed with it. Since I was eleven years old.

I am a firm believer that autism (and any other mental disorder, for that matter) doesn’t affect each person the same way. Some people struggle more in the social aspects than the sensory-motor aspects, and vice versa. There seems to be a stereotype where autistic people are very blunt, do not socialize with others period, and that they come off as non-empathetic to the point of being borderline (if not, completely) sociopathic, which is not always the case.

The way that autism may “appear” depends on the individual and his or her life. In fact, there are tons of people who have been confirmed to be on the spectrum who you would not expect to have the disorder. One of the most prominent is Satoshi Tajiri, the creator of the Pokémon franchise. Another example would be the actor Dan Aykroyd.

In summary, just because you’ve seen a little bit of this person, it doesn’t mean you know everything that goes on with them. Take what people say to you into consideration and privately generate your own conclusions from there.


Sara Breidenbach is an intern helping with Aspiring Youth summer camps. She is also a student at Bellevue College where she will graduate with an Associates Degree in Digital Media Arts in the fall of 2016.

Why Games? Why Not?

chess-775346_960_720When I consult with parents about our Aspiring Youth groups, they often ask me why I use so many board and card games. Most Aspiring Youth participants are dealing with challenges from social anxiety or something called executive functioning (more below) – or a bit of both.

With a little thoughtfulness, games help our students work on both. Given it’s the holidays, here are some suggestions for games to enjoy – just in case you want to try them at home!

Think of executive functioning as the manager of our brain that makes decisions. This helps us understand others’ emotions, resist impulses, control emotions, manage mental data, plan tasks, solve problems, and flexibly deal with change. Many diagnoses such as ADHD, autism spectrum disorders and even anxiety and depression can interfere with executive functioning. There’s also evidence that more than two hours a day of recreational screen time is linked to problems in executive functioning. This includes all screens (phones, computers, TV, tablets, etc.).   

How do games help in these areas?

Board and card games bring people face to face to read social cues in a way that electronics do not provide. To be successful, they to take turns and resist impatient impulses like talking over others. They have to remember rules. They have to make plans, and often have to flexibly change plans. They have to control frustration when they lose and not be obnoxious when they win. Board and card games also reduce screen time. What’s more, because our students are invested in the games, they offer a lot of teaching moments that lectures and other activities don’t.

Let’s look at a few of the games we use.

Most of these games are available from Seattle-area retailers like Meeples Games, Mox Boarding House, Games and Gizmos, Card Kingdom, Heroic Knight Games and Uncle’s Games, as well as online retailers like Amazon.

We Didn’t Playtest This At All – (2 to 15 players) – This was, by far, the most popular game in my Wednesday Kirkland group last year. It’s a fast-paced, chaotic, and silly card game that can be played in as little as 30 seconds. It helps our students practice reading skills, mental flexibility, impulse control, and frustration tolerance. The rules are (theoretically) pretty simple: you draw a card, and you play a card, following the instructions on the card you play. This may be something like, “Anyone who uses the words ‘I’, ‘me’, or ‘mine’ loses, starting now,” or, “You Win!… if you are the shortest person in the game.” We often played ten or more hilarious boss monsterrounds.  Fluxx is another, similar game, but with less chaos and more strategy.

Boss Monster – (2 to 4 players) – A very stylistic, competitive game modelled after retro, 8-bit video games, especially the Nintendo Entertainment System. Players must think about strategy and sequencing as they take on the role of a video game boss to build a dungeon designed to lure and defeat heroes from town. This is a very popular game with smaller groups and with my individual coaching clients. Students love the video game theme.

Superfight – (3 or more players) – This hilarious game is all about flexibility of thinking, frustration tolerance, listening skills, and loving to argue. Two people each have a few cards, some with characters, and some with abilities. Each player has to play one character card and one ability card, and they then add a random ability card. For example, it might be Obama, riding a battle tiger, and who violently sneezes versus Justin Bieber, who has an axe, and who lays golden eggs.  The players take turns arguing why their character with those abilities would win in a fight. All other players have to be good listeners and eventually vote on the character they think would win. The winner stays, and new player steps up.

munchkinMunchkin – (3 or more players) – This game involves strategy, math, negotiation, and bluffing. This is the current favorite of the Wednesday Kirkland teen group. It is a parody of other fantasy games like Dungeons & Dragons with a strong love of puns. Players take turns raiding a dungeon, fighting monsters or curses, and getting treasure to help them (such as the Potion of General Studliness). If they can’t beat a monster, they can negotiate with other players for help, trading cards, treasure, or even favors. Alliances shift quickly, as players must stop those about to win.

The Resistance – (5 to 10 players) – This is a game all about deduction, bluffing, and reading non-verbal cues. Each player is randomly assigned a role either as a resistance member or a spy trying to break the resistance. The resistance members do not know who the spies are. Teams are created to go on missions, and it’s the spies’ job to sabotage them without being detected. Accusations fly like crazy as people try to figure out who they can trust and who is a spy. Even if a spy is caught, a clever spy can make misleading accusations to keep other spies safe.

sentinelsSentinels of the Multiverse – (2 to 5 players) – This one is about strategy, planning, and cooperation. Each player is a superhero with a specialty such as speed, armor, martial arts, mystical energy, and so on. They must strategize and coordinate in order to collectively defeat a villain and survive a hazardous environment. A current favorite of mine.

Snake Oil – (3 to 10 players) – Empathy and flexibility are the name of the game here. This game is well-suited for some of my younger clients and is similar to Apples to Apples (another great game), but with a twist. Each round, a player acts as a “customer” of some type, such as a prom queen, gangster, plumber, caveman, etc. Each other player has to think about what that type of customer needs and play two cards from their hand that combine to create a new item. This might be “beard comb”, “pipe rope”, “war ring”, or anything the players can imagine. The “customer” then judges which item they most would want, and that chosen player wins the round.

Forbidden Island – (2 to 4 players) – More cooperation, planning, flexibility, and strategy are needed in this randomized board game. All the players are trying to collect the treasures and get off the island before it sinks. Each player has a different special ability such as scuba diving, navigation, and engineering, among others, which they use to aid the whole party.


R BoccamazzoR. Boccamazzo, PsyD, LMHCA

Dr. Boccamazzo is a doctor of clinical psychology and social skills coach with Aspiring Youth. Additionally, he has a private psychology practice in Bellevue offering individual therapy and psychological assessment to adolescents and adults, as well as parent and clinician trainings on technology in psychology. Much of his work focuses on high functioning autism, problematic technology usage, social anxiety, trauma, and schizophrenia. In his spare time, he enjoys acting, board games, video games, and weight lifting.