Attending Summer Camp
My child would like to attend summer camp, but I’m not sure how well he will fit in. Do you have any advice regarding what type of camp would be a good fit for a child with ASD?
Many parents are busy trying to find summer activities for their children. When your child has special needs, finding appropriate, safe and supportive summer camps and activities can be a challenge that requires planning and preparation. This information will help you prepare for a camp experience that will be more beneficial for your child and less stressful for both of you.
Before you begin looking for camps:
There are a wide variety of choices for camp experiences. There are day camps and overnight camps, camps that focus on teaching a particular skill or developing a particular interest or talent, while others provide a variety of experiences. Some camps are open to specific age groups while others are organized to meet the specific needs of a special group of children. Be sure to consider camps that offer inclusive programming and specialized programs tailored to your child’s specific needs. When deciding which camps to explore further, consider the following questions:
- Why am I sending my child to camp?
- What do I want my child to get out of this camp experience?
- What does my child want to get out of going to camp?
- Are there specific activities my child really wants to do at camp?
- Are there certain activities or factors that are “deal breakers”?
- Will my child benefit from being away from home for a period of time?
- Is my child ready to spend the night away from home?
- Does my child have any special talents, skills, goals or interests?
- Will my child know someone (child or adult) who will be at the camp?
- Will there be same age peers present for socialization?
Your responses to these questions will guide you toward certain camp experiences and away from other programs that may be less likely to meet your and your child’s unique set of needs. Explore the logistics of the camping experience you and your child are considering.
- Where is the camp located?
- Is this a day camp or overnight camp?
- How will my child travel to and from camp? Is carpooling an option?
- How much will it cost to attend the camp? Are there any additional costs? Are scholarships available to offset costs?
- What will my child need to bring to camp?
Obtain information related to the type of care your child will receive at the camp.
- Does the camp have the resources needed to meet my child’s special needs?
- How many children are in attendance at one time? How many children are in a group?
- What is the ratio of staff to children?
- Is the staff certified in BLS/CPR and first aid?
- What type of experience and training does the staff have with children who have special needs or Autism?
- Will my child be paired with the same staff every day?
- If my child needs additional support, beyond what camp can provide, will the camp allow someone to attend the camp with my child?
- Is the camp staff comfortable with using my child’s communication system consistently?
- Will the staff implement my child’s behavior intervention plan?
- Does my child need to be toilet trained to attend camp?
- How will my child’s special dietary needs be provided and followed?
- Will staff help my child with dressing, eating, bathing and hygiene if needed?
- What are the camp’s safety and emergency plans? What will staff do in an emergency to ensure my child’s safety if he needs assistance?
- Is staff trained to administer prescribed medications to my child?
- Is there any downtime? What is a typical day’s schedule? Any special events?
- What specific supports do they use for special needs campers, especially children who have Autism?
- How do they manage difficult behaviors, meltdowns, tantrums and anxiety?
Most importantly, be honest and upfront about your child’s needs.
Preparations for Camp
Once you have chosen a camp that can adequately meet your child’s medical, social, nutritional and behavioral needs, prepare your child for this camping experience.
If your child has not been away from home overnight very often, arrange for an overnight or weekend visit to a location where your child is comfortable, such as a good friend’s or relative’s house.
Inform camp counselors about bedtime routines and other comforting rituals.
If feasible, take your child to briefly visit the campsite to meet staff and familiarize him or her with the area one or two weeks prior to starting camp. Take some pictures, if allowed, for your child to become more engaged and familiar.
Obtain a camp schedule one to two weeks prior to camp so the daily agenda is familiar.
Send your child’s communication supports and any objects/devices used for soothing, coping and breaks.
Send a favorite object or a photo album along when your child goes to camp.
Wash and dry any new clothing bought to wear at camp and be sure your child can tolerate the clothing.
If your child is overly sensitive to bedding materials, send familiar bedding materials such as sheets or pillowcases, if allowed.
Now sit back, relax and let the camp staff do what they are trained to do…show your camper a great time!