Summer camp, especially a sleep-over camp, is a scary proposition. When your child has autism spectrum disorder (ASD) you worry. You know that any frustration can escalate into a meltdown at any time, you know your child has trouble socializing with other children.
Summer camp is a big step – for both you and your child. It is a lesson in independence, a way to take a break from a family’s busy schedule. It offers a time to relax, have fun and try new things. There are some camps that cater to children with autism or other special needs. You may feel more comfortable with this type of camp or you may prefer to have your child attend a mainstream camp. Whichever you choose, there are ways you can help your child feel more comfortable and get the most out of the camp experience.
Plan a visit to the camp beforehand. Call the camp ahead of time and set up a time for a tour. Explain that you want your child to be familiar with the camp, the sleeping quarters, where the children eat and the areas for play. Take your time during the tour, allowing your child to explore and ask questions. The more comfortable he is, the better the camp experience will be.
Ask if there is a staff member your child can email with questions. After you complete the tour and head home, your child may come up with questions about how the camp is run, activities or expectations. Having someone to email and ask stops your child from wondering and worrying about questions they have.
Ask for information outlining the rules. Go over each rule with your child to let him know what is expected of him and how he should expect to behave. Explain what consequences the camp has set up for when the rules aren’t followed.
Write a letter to the camp counselors providing them information about your child. Let them know about food preferences, what may work to calm a meltdown, any fears or anxieties and any other information that will help prepare the staff.
Ask the camp for a daily schedule. Go over the schedule with your child, using social stories if needed, so he knows what happens during a typical camp day. Write the schedule again, using simple words or pictures, if needed, for your child to keep with him or her.
The camp should provide a list of needed items. Have your child help you in gathering the items or shopping for items you don’t already have. Keeping them involved in the preparations helps them feel a part of the camp before the first day.
Add some personal items from home into your child’s suitcase. Send a favorite pillow, blanket or stuffed animal. Add in a picture of you or your family. Write notes for each day so your child has something from you each morning. If your child is attending camp for a week or more, ask the camp about sending a small care package for him to receive while he is there.
Find out about communication between campers and families; what are the guidelines concerning calls and emails. Discuss this with your child beforehand, for example, let him know you will be expecting his call on Wednesday evening or that you will send an email on Tuesday and Thursday. Giving him a schedule of when you will talk or email helps relieve some of the anxiety and homesickness.
Published On: May 14, 2013