Parenting Children with Autism: Is Your Child Ready for Summer Camp?

Eileen Bailey Health Guide
  • The prospect of sending your child with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), off to a sleepover, summer camp is both exciting and frustrating. Just the idea of sending him off to camp means he is becoming more independent. It means he is growing up. Summer camp offers memories that last a life time. It can give him a sense of belonging and teach him about his abilities. It gives him a chance to experience new things. It gives you a little respite time.

    At the same time, every horrible thing that could go wrong crosses your mind. Your child might have a meltdown and be shunned by counselors and other children. Your child might become frustrated trying to communicate and being misunderstood. Your child might have a difficult time with sensory activities, such as different crafts. The counselors might not know how to deal with your child.

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    Each child is different and develops at his or her own speed. There is no “magic” time when every child will be ready to spend time away from home. How do you know if your child is ready? Use the following as a guideline to help you decide. In the end, remember, you know your child best. You know his capabilities and his limitations. You are the best person to know if your child is ready.

    Has he ever spent a night away from home? Maybe you have gone on vacations or spend the night at a relative’s house.

    Has he ever spent a night away from home without you? Maybe he has had a sleepover with a friend or spent time visiting grandmom.

    Think about how your child managed those situations. If your child has not ever spent a night away from home or hasn’t been away from you, it might be a good idea to test this out before signing up for a week away from home. Enlist an understanding relative or friend to host your child for a sleepover. See how your child reacts. Ask your friend or relative to give feedback on how your child behaved while away from home.

    How open is my child to new experiences? Some children with autism enjoy learning new things or some are open to new experiences if they relate to their particular special interest. Some children have a difficult time with new surroundings or new experiences. Try planning some “new experience” events over the next couple of weekends to see how your child reacts. Again, you know your child best.

    Has my child participated in a day camp? This might give your child some references as to what happens during the time at the camp. If your child enjoyed the day camp experience, you might want to look for a camp with similar activities.

    What types of experiences can I plan to prepare him for overnight camp? This might depend on the type of camp you are considering. If the camp is a traditional camp in a rural setting, plan activities such as picnics and hiking. If the camp is more specialized, such as a computer camp, see if you can visit the computer labs of some local colleges. Plan to visit the camp your child will attend. Meet with the director and some of the counselors, if available.

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    What are my child’s expectations of camp? Talk to your child about his or her expectations. How they feel and what they think is going to, at least in part, determine if they have an enjoyable or a disastrous experience. If your child is enthusiastic about going to camp, that is a good sign.

    If you are hesitant about sending your child to overnight camp for a week during the summer, look for a weekend long camp, as a trial run. Summer sleepover camps provide  exciting opportunities for your child to experience new things, to make new friends and create memories he will keep for many years.

Published On: March 05, 2014