Summer Camp Options for Kids with Autism

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    Summer camp is an experience every child should have. But often children with autism are left out of this rite of passage. There are few camps that support their needs. Parents worry that staff doesn’t have a clear understanding of autism spectrum disorder and the tools to handle their child’s needs. A little upfront research and planning along with community support can make summer camp a reality for children with autism.

    The clearest route to the perfect camp fit is contacting an autism service organization, like the Autism Society of Minnesota (AuSM), that offers summer camps designed specifically for individuals with autism. From day camps to residential to extreme adventure options, AuSM camps serve all individuals on the autism spectrum.

    Many autism organziations will partner with a community provider to serve individuals with autism. AuSM provides autism training to many community organizations who want to welcome children with autism into their child care and camp programs.

    Contact your local autism service organizations and see if they provide these services in your community. This is also a great resource for finding recommendations on which camps are equipped to serve families with autism.

    Other parents are a great resource for finding camp programs that have been successful with their children. Ask around and see if there is a program that does a great job of welcoming and supporting individuals with autism.

    Seek out camps that cater to your child’s special interest: chess, engineering, cooking. This gives your child an opportunity to meet peers with common interests and fosters a natural environment for nuturing friendships.

    Armed with a list of possible camps, follow these tips to find the perfect camp for your child:

    1.    Look for a camp with at least a 10:1 staff to camper ratio. Depending on your child’s needs, this may need to be lower.
    2.    Talk to the director openly about your child’s needs. Determine if they have served children like yours in the past. Get a list of specific tools and strategies they use.
    3.    Talk to the staff that will be working with your child. See if they have an understanding of how to support children with special needs.
    4.    Ask what supports they have in place for behavior issues. Make sure they are positive supports, not punitive.
    5.    Determine how they facilitate friendships and support special interests. This is key to maximizing the social aspect of camp.
    6.    Have a clear understanding of how they deal with bullying. A zero tolerance policy does not serve individuals with autism. Often this policy places the child with autism in trouble while the real bully goes undetected.
    7.    Visit the site and see the camp in action.
    8.    If your child has never experienced summer camp, start off with a day camp. This allows you to check in with your child daily and eases everyone into the idea of being away from home.
    9.    If a residential camp is your choice, visit the site before camp starts with your child. This will ease anxiety about new surroundings. If you can’t visit, ask for a video to prep your child.
    10.    Make sure the camp accomodates special diets or “picky” eating.
    11.    If needed, make sure the camp can accommodate a personal care attendant or behavioral aide.

    As a parent of a child with autism, I know how hard it is to send your child away to their first camp. The upfront work involved in finding the right camp can seem daunting. But knowing that your child is in the right place will give you the peaceful down time you are seeking. And your child will return with new skills, new friends and confidence from taking that first step toward independence.

    Find Camps and Classes Near You

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