Day and Overnight Camps
Sending your child to camp can be a great experience for your child and you. Your child will get the opportunity to practice social skills, make friends, and gain self-confidence through independence. For you it can mean having a little time to yourself or extra time with other family members.
Depending on your child, you can choose a camp designed just for children with special needs or a mainstream camp where your child will be with children who do not have special needs. You can also decide if you would like your child to attend a day camp or one that is offered overnight. Once those decisions are made, you can take certain steps to ensure that both you and your child feel comfortable about going to camp.1
Questions To Ask The Camp Provider:
• What experience do the camp guides have working with individuals on the autism spectrum?
• What is the teacher to child ratio-assistants/volunteer?
• How long is the camp?
• How are behavior issues handled?
• How are medications dispensed?
• Do you have a pool or lake? Discuss your child’s swimming abilities.
• Do you have a therapist on duty?
• What is the background of those working with the children and what types of background checks have been done?
• What is the cost? Are there “scholarships” available?
• Many camps don’t allow direct contact between parent and child while the camp is in session — they do this to help the campers stay focused on their activities. This can be a daunting prospect for parents of kids with special needs, which is why it’s important that you figure out, ahead of time, how you’ll get information about your child’s status. You can ask: “Will the camp call me with updates?” “How can I contact the camp counselor to see how my child is doing?” “How can my child contact me…can he/she write letters?” “What if my child becomes very upset and wants to come home?”
• Do you go on field trips? If so how do you get there? How many staff will go along? How do you account for the children to make sure no one has wandered off?
• How do you handle emergency situations? Is everyone trained in CPR and first aid? 2
• If you or your child is intimidated by the thought of attending an overnight camp, you may consider starting him/her in a day camp. You can also send him/her with a friend or sibling.
• If you and your child have not visited the camp, make sure you get as much literature about it as possible, including a description of the layout and a video, if the camp has one. Go over these materials together.
• Ask for a list of recommended items to bring.
• Talk to your child about his or her feelings. Find out if your child has any concerns, and do your best to reassure him or her that you and the camp staff will take every precaution to make sure he or she stays safe.
• Give the staff a list of emergency phone numbers and email addresses, and make sure they know how to reach you at all times during your child’s camp stay.
• Have your child bring their own sunscreen if they will be outdoors.
• Pack an extra set of clothes.3
1 Kids Health for parents, “Sending Your Child With Special Needs to Camp,” (October 2007) http://kidshealth.org/parent/firstaid_safe/travel/sending_child_camp.html (30 November 2008)
2 BellaOnline The Voice of Women- Autism Spectrum Disorder Site, “Camp questions for families with autistic children,” n.d. (30 November 2008)
3 education.com, “Sending Your Child With Special Needs to Camp,” n.d. http://www.education.com/reference/article/Ref_Sending_Your_Child/ (30 November 2008)
Opportunities for Social Interaction
The opportunity for social interactions with others is very important for the development of all children. Through social interactions, children begin to establish a sense of “self” and to learn what others expect of them. Although social interactions for very young children primarily occur within the family, as children grow and develop, they become more and more interested in playing and interacting with other children. When interacting with others, children learn appropriate social behaviors, such as sharing, cooperating, and respecting the property of others. In addition, while interacting with their peers, young children learn communication, cognitive, and motor skills.
For most people interacting with others, making friends and developing relationships all happen effortlessly. However, children with autism often lack the necessary social skills that are needed to foster such relationships. They truly do not understand what they are supposed to do or say and they are hurt when their attempts at being part of a group are not accepted.
Providing social opportunities for your child on the autism spectrum will allow him/her to practice essential skills in a natural environment. It may be best to start with smaller groups and then when your child is ready, the size of the group and the duration of the activity can increase. When choosing activities for your child there a few things to keep in mind.
About Your Child:
• How much interaction can your child handle before it becomes too overwhelming?
• Does your child do better with just a few other children or does he/she prefer larger groups?
• What activities does your child enjoy?
• If possible, avoid activities during times of the day that your child seems to have a hard time (i.e. if he/she needs time to decompress after school, do not schedule an activity until later in the evening).
• Consider the characteristics of your child such as activity level, maturity, level of focus, and special needs.
About The Activity:
• If you are in a club type program, who is running the activity and what is their experience in working with individuals on the autism spectrum?
• Is the activity/program able to meet your child’s individual needs?
• What is the adult to child ratio?
• What is the cost?
• How often and how long do they meet?
• Your child can join a club where participants will have the same interests as your child (i.e. chess, math, science, etc.)
• Invite a friend over to play for a play date.
• Join age appropriate social clubs for special needs children.
• Attend day or overnight camps.1
1Stanislaus County Office of Education (Resource and Referral Handout) “Importance of Social Interactions” (n.d.) http://www.stancoe.org/cfs/handouts/SpecialNds/pdf/ImportanceofSocialInteractions.pdf (15 January 2009)
Sports and Leisure
It is important for children with Autism Spectrum Disorders to enjoy sports and leisure activities outside of the school and home to build confidence, interact with peers, and have a physical outlet. Participation in such programs can contribute to the positive development of physical fitness and a healthy lifestyle, self-confidence and self-esteem, motor skills, social skills, and sportsmanship. The development of these important life skills should be the main focus of any program.
Organized athletics have many benefits, but a healthy lifestyle does not have to include sports. What is most important is helping your child realize that physical activity is fun. Whether you choose a special needs or inclusive team/activity, be sure to carefully assess the program and select one that meets your child’s individual needs. Below is a list to keep in mind when looking for recreational sports and activities.
About Your Child:
• Does your child want to be in a team sport or does he/she do better in individual activities?
• Consider the characteristics of your child such as activity level, maturity, interests, and special needs.
• Would your child do better in a special needs activity where there is more individual attention?
• Discuss your child’s needs with the coach or leader of the group.
• Consider your child’s schedule. Will another activity be too overwhelming?
Evaluate the Program:
• Does the coach/leader have experience working with children on the autism spectrum?
• What is the adult to child ratio?
• How long and how often are games and practices?
• Does your child enjoy the program?
• Does the coach show enthusiasm and good sportsmanship?
• Are modifications made to meet the needs of each participant?
• Is the equipment used safe and in good working condition?
• Is the facility kept clean and in good working order?
• Team assignments: Are the children grouped according to maturity and skill level?
• Does everyone have a chance to play?1,2
1 MayoClini.com: Children’s Health, “Children and sports: Choices for all ages,” (6 September 2008) http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/fitness/SM00057 (13 January 2009)
2 Education.com, “Choosing the Right Sport and Physical Activity Program for Your Child,” (n.d.) http://www.education.com/reference/article/Ref_Choosing_Right_Sport/ (13 January 2009)