Preparing Your Autistic Child for Summer Camp
Preparing an autistic child for summer camp involves a combination of careful planning, open communication, and addressing specific needs and challenges. Here are some steps you can take to help prepare your child for a positive camp experience:
- Research and choose an appropriate camp: Look for camps that have experience and knowledge in accommodating children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Consider camps that offer specialized programs or have trained staff who understand the needs of autistic children.
- Visit the camp beforehand: Arrange a visit to the camp with your child before the actual camp session begins. This will help familiarize your child with the environment, facilities, and staff. It can also alleviate any anxiety they may have about the unknown.
- Communicate with camp staff: Reach out to the camp director or staff well in advance to discuss your child’s specific needs. Provide them with information about your child’s strengths, challenges, and any strategies that work well in supporting their communication and behavior.
- Develop a visual schedule: Create a visual schedule or social story that outlines the daily routine at camp. Use pictures or drawings to depict different activities and the sequence in which they will occur. This can help your child understand and anticipate what to expect.
- Practice camp activities: If possible, introduce your child to some of the activities they will participate in at camp. Practice these activities in a structured and supportive setting, gradually increasing the level of challenge to build their confidence.
- Social skills training: Help your child develop and practice social skills that will be beneficial at camp. Role-play different social scenarios they might encounter, such as making friends, sharing, or asking for help.
- Establish a communication plan: Discuss with camp staff the best way to communicate with your child during camp. Share any strategies or supports that have worked well in the past. If your child uses assistive technology or visual aids, ensure that the camp is familiar with these tools.
- Create a behavior plan: Create a behavior plan and share with the camp staff so they are prepared in addressing any challenging behaviors. The behavior plan should include proactive strategies that are effective in reducing the likelihood that behaviors will occur and strategies that address the current behaviors and reduce the probability that challenging behaviors will occur again.
- Prepare for sensory sensitivities: Many autistic children have sensory sensitivities. Talk to the camp staff about your child’s sensory needs and provide any necessary accommodations. If your child uses sensory tools or strategies, such as noise-canceling headphones or fidget toys, make sure they have access to them at camp.
- Involve your child in packing: Let your child be part of the process of packing their camp bag. Together, select items that provide comfort and familiarity, such as a favorite stuffed animal, a special blanket, or familiar snacks.
- Foster independence: Encourage your child to practice skills that will promote independence at camp, such as dressing themselves, self-care routines, or following simple instructions. Gradually increase their responsibilities to build confidence and self-reliance.
- Emphasize positive aspects: Talk about the exciting aspects of camp, such as new friends, fun activities, and new experiences. Highlight the positive aspects to create anticipation and enthusiasm.
- Address anxiety and emotions: Recognize that your child may experience anxiety or other emotions about going to camp. Encourage open communication and provide reassurance and support. Help them identify and practice coping strategies, such as deep breathing or taking breaks when needed.
Remember, each child is unique, so adapt these strategies based on your child’s individual needs. Working closely with the camp staff and maintaining open lines of communication will contribute to a successful summer camp experience for your autistic child.
**Many self-advocates from the autism community have indicated a preference for the phrase “autistic person” rather than “person with autism,” as they consider autism to be a core component of their identity; as part of ALP’s commitment to providing neurodiversity-affirming care that uplifts the lived experiences and preferences of those we serve, we have used the phrase “autistic person” throughout this blog post.