For many parents, sending their child or children to camp for the very first time is stressful. For parents of a child with autism, the stress can be even more overwhelming, filling parents with fear at the prospect. The truth is kids with autism can have a successful camp experience. While there are lots of specifics that must be attended to, camp opens the door for children with autism to create lifelong memories and have positive life experiences which can build social confidence and enhance sensory, physical, and cognitive growth. As you consider summer camp for your child, assessing these components will help you choose the perfect camp for a safe, fun, and positive camp experience.
Is Your Child “Ready” for a Camp Experience?
Every child is unique, and no one knows your child better than you. Use your parental intuition and consider these questions to help you determine your child’s readiness.
- Has your child successfully away from home overnight (with or without you being present?
- How does your child respond when away from you?
- Does your child cope well with new experiences? Can coping be improved with preparation for an upcoming event?
- What does your child know about camp? Is the impression positive or negative?
- Do you feel your child could be away from you for an extended period?
- Think about common camp activities. Would any of the situations create stress or challenges for your child?
As you ponder your answers and concerns, keep in mind a day camp experience can be a good starting point and a positive transition into a successful sleep-away camp experience. Another option is having your child sleep-over with a family member or friend to gain experience and prepare for a successful overnight camp experience.
Finding the Best Camp for Your Child
As you begin researching camps, you can start online to narrow your search. Next ask other parents, teachers, counselors, and your healthcare professionals for recommendations. Keep in mind there are both integrated camps and disability focused camps and in both cases you should consider the camps reputation in both the local community and the disability community. Consider all the options as you narrow down the choices which offer the best options for your child’s current level of independence.
Once you have a short list, visit each camp with your child. Ask if staff members are trained to work with children who have autism and if they have passed the appropriate background checks. Ask if all staff members are certified in first-aid and water rescue. Discuss the ratio of staffers to campers. Ask if the camp can accommodate your child’s dietary needs. Discuss supports available to your child if emotional or behavioral issues arise. Talk about the daily schedule and the activities. Don’t hesitate to share your concerns while visiting the camp. They should reassure you that they are equipped to handle each one. Does the staff on hand at your visit engage your child? And take note, does your child seem comfortable?
Your goal is to ensure a successful camp experience for your child and that should be the camp’s goal as well.
Preparing Your Child for Camp
Once you have made the camp selection, you will want to help your child get ready for a fun, successful experience. Talk with your child about going to camp at the proper time. (Some children like to know what’s coming months ahead and enjoy counting down, others will worry if they know too far in advance – so plan accordingly.) Explain to your child he or she will be ‘living’ at camp and work on all the living skills he or she will need at camp.
In the days before camp arrives, create a social story about a good camp experience. Read or tell it regularly leading up to camp. Include the details – getting dropped off, saying good, meeting new friends, enjoying fun activities, sleeping in bunks, as well as saying good to new friends and coming home. Let your child help with the packing list and the packing as you discuss more about what they will be doing at camp. Reassure your child that the staff is there to support and help whenever he or she need it.
Children with autism can have a successful camp experience. Whether you chose a day camp experience to start or an overnight camp for your child, camping promises positive growth for both children and parents.