Preparing your child for camp can be daunting and nerve-wracking, but we have found some steps that will ease your mind and your child’s.
Share pictures of the camp and activities with your camper: Because pictures speak a thousand words to our kids, use them to show your camper exactly what the camp looks like, from the beds (if they are staying overnight) to the cafeteria to all of the activities.
Tour the camp ahead of time: Many camps offer familiarization events and tours. Be sure to take advantage of any events prior to your camper’s big day so they can see the camp. It’s also a great time to ask questions and find out whether the camp counselors have had any experience with kids on the spectrum.
Prepare a picture schedule about camp: Find out from the camp ahead of time about each day’s activities and create daily picture schedules for your child to take with them. Find examples on ASNC’s website, created for Camp Royall: Welcome to Residential Camp and Welcome to Day Camp. It is helpful to use Velcro so the camp counselors can switch activities around in case of a change in schedule. For more on visual schedules, see this previous blog post.
Create a calendar to show the time at camp: It is very helpful for our kids to see the beginning and ending of their week at camp. Attach a marker so they can mark off each day, and place a picture of your family or your home at the end of the week. It might also be helpful to send pictures of your family, pets, or home with your camper for talking points with new friends and counselors.
Prepare a “bio” of your child: Camp counselors will benefit from knowing as much as possible about your child, from their favorite things to the things that they dislike, such as certain foods or activities. Also mention whether your child has any sensory issues with sounds, smells, textures, and lights, and don’t forget to send in any sensory items such as therapy putty, squish toys, etc. Another thing to mention are medication side effects such as loss of appetite or difficulty sleeping. Tell counselors what triggers your child, such as the ending of a preferred activity, and what can help calm your child in the event of a meltdown. Here is an example bio:
Here are a few things that I think are important for the staff to know about Johnny and how autism manifests itself in Johnny:
- Johnny has difficulty processing verbal information which requires a “wait time” for him to respond. This “wait time” is approximately 10-15 seconds. It is important for those assigned/working with Johnny to know that Johnny is not “intentionally” ignoring requests or instructions. He just needs additional time to process it. It is helpful to ask him whether he needs more time to think or whether he needs help, if he has not responded in an appropriate amount of time.
- Johnny benefits from having a visual schedule so that he can determine when activities begin and end and to know what is coming next!
- Johnny sometimes engages in compensatory behaviors such as making noises, which include self-talk, making animal sounds, singing, creating sound effects, and/or repetitive talk. Providing opportunity for movement and oral sensory diet (gum, suckers, candy) can be helpful if this is distracting others.
- Johnny benefits from a system of choices to help him self-regulate his behavior when his anxiety level rises or he becomes frustrated. He particularly benefits from having a degree of control over his environment and space. For example: Johnny do you want to do ___ by yourself, or do you want me to help you ____? Johnny, do you want to get your swimsuit on yourself, or do you need my help to get your swimsuit on?
- Johnny can sometimes calm himself when upset or frustrated. At other times, Johnny’s anxiety level reaches a threshold where he needs to leave the environment or calm down in an alternate location. It would be helpful to decide ahead of time where this location will be and explain to him that he is allowed to go there to calm down. It would be helpful to have a “written pass” like a bathroom pass that he can hand to his camp counselor without using words.
- Johnny does at times have difficulty accepting authority from adults. He should be given two SIMPLE, concrete, acceptable choices or alternatives. It might be helpful to write them on paper.
- When Johnny has a meltdown, he should be given time and space to regain control. It is best to not speak to him or use verbal instructions and to not touch him. Of course, as long as he is safe and not hurting himself or others, he should be left alone. He will usually regroup and can be given choices at that point.
- Transitions can be hard for him if they cause him to stop doing something he enjoys and begin another task that is less desirable. It is extremely helpful to give him several warnings of an upcoming transition and the time left before transitioning to the next activity.
- Johnny is working to develop friendships and understand how to gain his peers’ attention in appropriate ways. He is also learning how to navigate the social rules throughout various settings. He continues to have a difficult time engaging others, discussing topics outside of his interests, and understanding other people’s perspective.
- Johnny’s social skills can sometimes affect his ability to work successfully in group activities.
- Johnny loves to draw and read. These can be therapeutic activities for him. He is also a huge animal lover, which is also therapeutic.
- The medication Johnny takes can decrease his appetite until it wears off in the evening. It is helpful to encourage him to eat his lunch, even if he doesn’t necessarily “feel” hungry.
- Johnny can also have difficulty falling asleep due to his medication. Melatonin at bedtime seems to help a lot.
Share general information about autism: It might also be helpful to bring a simple, one-page summation about autism to give the staff a basic understanding if it is not an autism-specific camp. However, try to not overwhelm and inundate them with too much information! The ASNC website has basic autism information you can share.
Create “care packages” for your child: Go to the dollar store and buy some toys, candy, drawing pads, markers, stickers, travel games to go in a small box for your child to open each day at camp. The boxes will give them something to look forward to and to share with their new friends.
Bobbi Wells, an Autism Resource Specialist in the Eastern region, can be reached at 252-722-2058 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tags: ASNC, autism, autism anxiety, autism asperger parenting tips, autism behavior, autism camp, autism communication, autism resources, autism social skills, autism society north carolina, autism society of NC, Autism Society of North Carolina, Autism spectrum, Autism Spectrum Disorder, Autism Spectrum Disorders, autism support, Camp Royall