It’s the beginning of summer and many children are transitioning from school to camp. Going to camp is a way for children to interact with their peers, experience new things, and create lasting memories, but for some children who have been diagnosed with autism, the transition can be a difficult one. They may need to adjust to new people and schedules and this can cause anxiety and fear, but it doesn’t have to. Here are some ways Beautiful Minds Center recommends that you prepare your child on the spectrum for a fun and memorable experience at summer camp.
- Once you figure out what camp is best for your child, visit the camp site so that your child on the spectrum is familiar with where they are going when you drop him/her off on the first day. Try to meet the camp counselors and any other staff members, if possible. Unfamiliar places and situations can cause unnecessary stress for a child who has been diagnosed with autism, so take pictures of the camp grounds, the schedule, and the faces of the people you meet; and use these tools to create a social story on what to expect. This will make your child’s transition much easier to handle on the first day of camp.
- Another great way to prepare your child for camp is through visual aids. Use the pictures you took on your visit to the camp, the camp brochure, their website or any other visual information you can get your hands on, and talk to them about the cabins, the food, what activities they will be involved in, etc. so that you can help set their expectations and give them a feel for what camp will be like when they go.
- Involve your child on the spectrum in planning their day at camp. Have them pack their backpack for the day, discuss with them what the weather will be like, what activities they want to do and what they can expect from the day. If they are playing sports, have them pack their sports clothes and shoes. If it’s a water day, work with them on packing their bathing suit. Also remember that sometimes a new activity sounds like fun, but if it’s the first time your child who has been diagnosed with autism is participating in that activity, prepare them for what they should expect and/or practice this activity with them at home, in the park or wherever you have access to the items you need.
- Throughout the whole process of planning to go to camp, and even after your child with special needs has started camp, continue to set their expectations. Be sure your child knows what they can expect, not only from the camp and the people/peers at the camp, but from you. Let them know where you will drop them off and where you will pick them up, the time you will get there, etc. This way you decrease anxiety at the start and end of the day.
- Go over each day of camp with your child on the spectrum when they get home. By doing this, you allow them to process their day, tell you stories, and create special memories. Many camps also take pictures of their campers throughout the summer and either post these pictures or e-mail them to the parents. Take these pictures and create an album or a book to share with your child, so that they remember their summer experiences and so that you can use this book next summer when it’s time for your child to go back to camp.
Summer camp can be an incredible learning and growing experience for a child and with a little preparation, communication, and setting expectations, your child that has been diagnosed with autism, can have an enjoyable summer, meet new friends, experience new activities and create memories that last a lifetime.