The weather might be frightful, but summer is just around the corner. And what is even more frightful for a parent is turning the calendar page to June and realizing you are not prepared.
Many summer programs and camps (including ASNC’s own Camp Royall) are accepting registrations now, and many options for individuals with special needs are full by April.
So now is the perfect time to consider your options and plan for a great summer!
Read on to learn:
- How to find a camp or program that fits your loved one
- How to prepare your loved one for change as the school year ends
- How to prepare your loved one to go to camp
- How to prepare camp staff to best support your loved one
Start Now: Find a Summer Program for Your Loved One
The right summer camp can help your child – no matter their age – learn new skills, try new activities, gain confidence, and make friends.
Ease into it: If your loved one does not have much experience being away from home, consider starting with a day camp or a sports team for children with special needs. Another way to increase their comfort is to find someone they know to attend with them, such as a friend or sibling.
Explore camps: Our own Camp Royall is the largest in the nation specifically for individuals on the spectrum and we would love a chance to welcome your loved one. Also try your local parks and recreation departments; many of them have options for individuals with special needs. Even camps that aren’t identified as being for individuals with special needs may be a good fit for some individuals with autism if they are directed at children with a defined interest such as robotics, science, or LEGOs.
Take tours: Don’t be afraid to request to visit programs. If possible, this is best done when they are open, so you can see how they operate.
Ask questions: Once you have found a program that you think could work for your loved one, don’t be afraid to ask questions before you sign up. Here are some you might consider:
- What is the camper-to-counselor ratio?
- How many campers will be participating overall? Are they split into smaller groups?
- What is the schedule for each week? What is the routine of each day?
- What adaptations could be made if needed? Examples might include more breaks if needed or a special snack time to accommodate your child’s diet.
- Does the staff have training to work with individuals with autism? (If only some of them do, ask whether your loved one can be paired with those people.)
- Is the staff willing to meet with you and your child to get to know them ahead of time?
Learn more: Talk to a local ASNC Autism Resource Specialist if you need more information about options near you.
Next: Prepare Your Loved One for Change
The end of the school year is a joyous time for some children – it means freedom, more time for friends and fun activities. But for some, like our loved ones with autism, any change in routine or schedule can cause anxiety.
Keep routines: To ease your child’s transition to summer, consider establishing a routine that works for your family. Try to keep meals on a schedule and establish patterns of activities over a week or during each day, if possible. Having a routine can lessen your loved one’s anxiety.
Create a visual schedule: Next, create a visual schedule to provide information about what to expect in times of change. They come in many forms; some use pictures, some use only written words, and some have both. Some schedules are hands-on, with space to check off an item once it is completed. Some are simple, like a first/then with just two pictures. Some are on an electronic device, such as a cellphone or tablet.
When choosing a schedule, consider your child’s level of understanding. Also consider how it will be used: Does it need to be portable or will looking at it only in your home be enough support?
Use the schedule: Keep in mind that it may take a little adjusting to find the best fit for your child if you have not used one before. To increase success, be consistent in using the schedule throughout the summer. Sometimes, we are tempted to stop using a visual support once our loved ones are using it successfully. But it is continued use that is supporting their sense of well-being, so keep using it. A visual schedule also promotes independence, which can go with them anywhere, including camp and school.
Learn more: For more ideas for a fun and stress-free summer, check out this past blog post. Start planning now.
Late Spring: Prepare Your Loved One to Go to Camp
Visit the camp: Ask the camp staff whether you can bring your child to visit ahead of time, explore the facilities, and meet the staff. Try to choose a quiet time with not many people there.
Ease into it: If you are considering an overnight camp and your child hasn’t yet slept away from home, arrange for an overnight or weekend somewhere the child is comfortable, or at the camp if possible. For example, Camp Royall has weekend camps year round to help campers ease into the experience.
Provide visual supports: Use social narratives and visuals to explain to your loved one the types of activities and any new situations they might encounter at camp. Take photos when you visit and be sure to show them to your loved one multiple times. Camp Royall provides a social narrative on its website; if the camp that you choose doesn’t have one, you can create one based on this example. (Learn more about social narratives on our website.)
Create a calendar: It is very helpful for our loved ones to see the beginning and ending of their week at an overnight camp. Attach a marker for marking 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.
Be positive: Speak positively about the camp and all of the fun your loved one will have. Attitude makes a difference!
Before Camp: Prepare Staff to Support Your Loved One
No one knows your loved one the way you do. You know their strengths as well as their challenges. Helping others understand what your child needs sets everyone up for success.
Meet with staff: Share information about your child with the camp staff in advance. Ask to meet with the staff members who will be working with your loved one near the start date of camp, if possible.
Write a profile: You also can write a bio to help them learn about your child, but try to keep it brief so they can retain the information. Include interests and strengths, possible triggers and challenges, sensory issues, and behavior and communication strategies that work. We offer an example of a profile sheet that you can print and fill out if you’d like.
If you haven’t checked out ASNC’s Social Recreation programs, please do – we would love to serve your family. No matter where you choose for your loved one, we hope your camper has the best summer ever!Tags: ASNC, Asperger Syndrome, Asperger's Syndrome, autism, autism anxiety, autism camp, autism north carolina, autism resources, autism schedule, autism society north carolina, autism society of NC, Autism Society of North Carolina, Autism spectrum, Autism Spectrum Disorder, Autism Spectrum Disorders, autism summer, autism support, autism transition, Camp Royall, Developmental disability