Innovative camp program to pair teen girls with developmental disabilities or autism with peers

Girls Night Out, a new camp program in Morgantown, will provide girls with autism and developmental disabilities a chance to hone their social skills and build lasting friendships with their peers.

The camp, offered by the West Virginia University School of Medicine’s Speech, Language, and Hearing Clinic, will take place weekly on Friday evenings from June 21 through July 26 at various locations in the greater Morgantown area from 5:30 to 7 p.m.

The program is open to teenage girls ages 14 to 20. The cost for campers is $300, but financial assistance may be available to those who qualify.

In addition to seeking campers, the program also seeks peer volunteers to serve as mentors. Mentors are girls without disabilities who are trained peer volunteers who help create social opportunities and model the use of skills.

There is no cost for peer mentors. However, they must attend 90% of the weekly GNO sessions, demonstrate healthy and genuine social interactions, relate to others, and engage in meaningful connections.

Peer mentors will earn community service hours, build and practice social and self-care skills and increase their understanding of developmental disabilities.

“The benefits to the program go far beyond just what our campers and mentors learn in these weekly sessions,” Molly Abitbol, WVU School of Medicine Human Performance Assistant Professor, said. “We’re teaching live skills, empathy and confidence that will apply not only to social settings in the immediate future but be skills they build on throughout their lives.”

The program incorporates evidence-based strategies for girls with developmental disabilities. Participants are taught social and self-care skills within natural community settings, which allows them to put their lessons into practice.

Some benefits to participants include improved conversational skills and engagement in meaningful connections.

“This program celebrates individuality in social settings instead of a clinic, which can make the participants feel more at ease in their environments outside of the camp setting once the program has finished,” Abitbol said.

For more information or to register, visit