Ready, Set, Summer! Prepping Your Kid with Autism for Summer Camp

For many kids, summer is the best time for outdoor activities and spending time with peers. For children on the autism spectrum, summer might also come with extra challenges, including preparing for and attending summer camp. That’s because at camp, children with autism won’t be experiencing the typical everyday routines they are used to. Nor will they be in a familiar environment. Plus, they may be meeting new people and trying to make new friends.

All of these and more can contribute to your and your children’s anxiety about summer camp. So, we talked with Erika Trump, a pediatric occupational therapist focusing on sensory integration. Read on for her best tips for helping you and your child prepare for a fun and successful summer camp experience.

Pick the Right Summer Camp

First off, set your child up for success by picking the best camp for their needs.

“Be strategic in choosing a camp,” Trump says. “A child that has never been away from you may have difficulty at a sleep away camp in another state.”

Other factors include asking yourself if your child prefers extra movement. If so, they may struggle in a camp that requires a lot of seated work, Trump says. Also, a child who has challenges in new situations might want to attend a camp that their friends or siblings are already attending. Depending on all these factors, the camp you pick for your child will look different to fit those needs.

Help Your Child Imagine Camp

Children with autism can have difficulty in new situations, where they don’t know what to expect. “The parent is always the expert on their child, and this is the prime time to use that expertise to think through all the aspects of camp to determine where challenges might arise, and provide support or accommodations to help create the most positive experience,” Trump says.

Find ways to help your child mentally prepare for camp, such as showing them pictures and videos featuring summer camp, reading stories about summer camp, or even visiting the exact camp they will be attending ahead of time. “If possible, meeting a staff member or counselor ahead of time can also be helpful to allow a child with autism to find a person that’s familiar once they get to camp,” Trump says.

Talk with the Camp’s Leaders

It may seem obvious, but you know your child best. “You know what makes them great and what things create challenges,” Trump says. “So consider all the physical, sensory and social components of camp, and identify where barriers might exist and create supports to overcome these barriers.”

It can be helpful for you to have a conversation with the camp staff about supports that work well for your child and identifying situations that could be stressful or triggering. “For example, if a staffer knows that your child has difficulty with loud noises and everyone at the camp eats all together in a loud environment, they may be able to provide an alternative place to eat or provide headphones to reduce overwhelm from the noise,” Trump says.

This could also be a good time to consult others who know your child well and who can offer valuable insights to support your child. “Don’t forget about others who are a part of your child’s life, like therapists or teachers,” Trump says. Ask them to weigh in on how their environments, like the school room, playground or therapy rooms, have impacted your child. If the summer camp has these spaces or something similar, think about how to prepare your child for these new spaces through the therapist or teacher guidance.

Don’t Forget to be Excited!

Though your child may have their fears about summer camp, it is important to frame this experience as a positive one for your child. “Camp is often a core memory for kids, and it shouldn’t be any different for autistic children,” Trump says. “Have faith that you have prepared your child for this moment.”

Everything you have helped your child through up until now will have laid a strong foundation that will prepare them for this new experience, too.

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