The Ultimate Guide to Choosing a Summer Camp for Autism


The traditional summer camp experience is something a lot of people look forward to attending, but what about a summer camp for autism? There are plenty of questions to ask and qualifications to check out when considering a camp for your child on the spectrum.

The Ultimate Guide to Choosing a Summer Camp for Autism https://www.autismparentingmagazine.com/summer-camp-autism/

When the school year ends, how do you know if your child with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is ready for a camp program? What support is available for families of kids with autism to prepare for summer camps?

How do I choose the best summer camp experience for my child with autism?

A great summer camp experience begins with the individual in mind. Parents are the experts of their children, their needs, their abilities, and their interests.

There are a number of camps available across the spectrum that provide a fun and traditional camp experience while also offering opportunities for growth in areas such as increasing self confidence, swimming, learning to build relationships, and provide opportunities for social interaction with others.

Are there programs that are specific for children with autism?

There are autism summer camp programs that are inclusive and have neurotypical campers, along with children with autism in an inclusive environment. Along with traditional camp activities, they have support staff and other accommodations that are camper specific for those that may need additional support.

  • Specialized programs are ones that are specific to teens and children with autism spectrum disorders, learning disabilities, and other special needs. They typically aim to help prevent regression of skills, build, and target social skills and other skills that need to be built
  • There are also extended school year programs available for the child with learning challenges that has a higher chance of regression of skills on their Individualized Education Plan (IEP). These autism summer camps follow the IEP, help build skills, and support the child or teen with special needs
  • There are other autism summer camps for kids with autism that are for other specifications dependent on the individual with autism spectrum disorder . The above three options are a good starting point and can be discussed with those that help formulate the IEP for the children or teens

What are the benefits of summer camps for kids with autism?

There was an article that discussed the benefits of a specific summer camp for children with autism and how it impacted them. The Impact of Summer Camp on Social Skills for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder had the parents of 40 children and teens that attended Camp New Amigos fill out questionnaires before, during, and after the camp programs.

The conclusion was that there were significant improvements, statistically, in teens and children with autism spectrum disorders that attended the summer day camp program. The researchers were looking at five main domains including communication, initiation, reciprocity, social cognition, and perspective taking skills.

The significant improvements were seen in communication, initiation, and reciprocity skills. Those are three skills widely used to make new friends.

The researchers did not see significant improvements in social cognition, perspective taking and self awareness. The reason that there weren’t significant improvements in social cognition could be because the camp counselors modeled what was expected of the campers with ASD, and there were no new supports or lessons to improve perspective and self awareness.

What should summer camps focus on?

If camps want to take direction from the study done at Camp New Amigos, they could ensure that the adults and young adults that are camp counselors and leaders lay the foundation with clear instructions, allow small groups to work together to solve problems, and play cooperative games with support if it is needed.

Having trained camp counselors and helpers that have experience with children with ASD is beneficial. This should mean they have an understanding of the importance of a structured environment and its part in helping teach social skills like sharing, taking turns, and interacting with other campers. Also, it is good for camps to allow some free play in a safe environment with different toys and activities like puzzles and fidget toys.

The summer camps could also provide environments where the games and activities help the kids build skills in reading body language, understanding nonverbal cues, and recognizing personal space. This could be done through the games with an understanding of being polite and respectful to one another, joining in activities with peers, and greeting and helping others where they can.

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These are activities that Camp New Amigos used as a basis for their programs. According to the article written about the strengthening of social skills through 40 participants of the camp, these activities and practices would be a great start for other summer camps and something parents can ask and look for when checking camps out for their children.

Here is a starter list of autism summer camps (by US state)

Alabama

Camp SMILE: There are four one-week camps that are available, between June and July, for specific age groups for people with ASD and their siblings.

Alaska

Focus Outreach Center: This camp is an inclusive community that provides activities that are adapted to each camper’s skill and ability levels. Teamwork building, along with lots of fun activities, and a safe environment are had with the guidance of a trained summer camp staff.

Arizona

The Friendship Circle: This summer camp strives to offer children traditional camp activities while making friends with their volunteer camp buddy. They will also have the opportunity to work on social skills while being actively engaged in their camp experience.

SEEDS for Autism Summer Program: This program is specific to teens and young adults with ASD and is set in a structured environment. They offer three sessions that are centered on social interactions, building self esteem, improving fine motor skills, improving social skills, and having fun through culinary, music, arts, crafts, movement, and more.

Arkansas

Camp Aldersgate: This camp program is a week-long residential summer camp, is for ages 6-18, and is income based. When a parent fills out the camp registration they can see the information that outlines this program. The camp offers opportunities to interact with other peers that share similar experiences and are either on the autism spectrum or have other special needs.

California

Quest Camps: These are available in Orange County and East Bay. These summer camps provide opportunities for campers to interact and receive the Quest Camp specific mental health treatment.

Colorado

Rocky Mountain Village Camp (RMV): This Easter Seals camp is rated one of the top camps in the country and is fully accessible for those with differing needs. They provide opportunities for swimming, fishing, zip-lining, hiking, and more. The summer camp is barrier free and offers a safe environment for children and adults with disabilities to enjoy the traditional camp activities and experience.

Delaware

Camp Fairlee: This camp offers respite for families while providing a safe and accessible camp for those with disabilities six years old and above. Campers are challenged to discover their full potential, make friends, and acquire new and growing skills that are guided by qualified and trained staff.

Florida

Special Touch Getaways: These camps are residential summer camps set in a Christian atmosphere that has medical professionals and volunteers. They offer swimming, fishing, sports, petting zoos, and more.

CIP Summer Programs: These are available at Berkeley and Long Beach. These summer camps are for teens and young adults with ASD and other learning challenges. The programs help teach the skills necessary for the transition to college and adulthood.

Georgia

Camp Dream: This is a recreational summer camp for children and young adults with moderate to severe physical and developmental disabilities. The camp has a 1:1 camper to counselor ratio in a safe and barrier free environment. There are scholarships available for those with financial hardships. This camp provides the traditional summer camp experience in a setting that is safe for differing abilities and skill levels.

SPECTRUM Camp Journeys: These camps help provide respite and camps that support the entire family. They also help provide social interaction opportunities for individuals all through the autism spectrum.

Idaho

Camp Aldersgate: This camp program is a week-long residential summer camp, is for ages 6-18, and is income based. When a parent fills out the camp registration they can see the information that outlines this program. The camp offers opportunities to interact with other peers that share similar experiences and are either on the autism spectrum or have other special needs.

Illinois

TimberPointe Adventure Day Camp: This camp has a traditional camp experience and activities set up with zip lining, fishing, boating, etc. It provides opportunities for kids with disabilities or health challenges to develop confidence and independence through activities that would generally seem impossible.

Indiana

CIP Summer Programs: These are available at Berkeley and Long Beach. These summer camps are for teens and young adults with ASD and other learning challenges. The programs help teach skills needed for the transition to college and adulthood.

Iowa

Camp High Hopes: This program provides year round support for families and individuals diagnosed with ASD and other special needs. They provide opportunities in archery, canoeing, nature education, and other outdoor activities.

Kansas

Mission Creek Camps: These camps provide opportunities to interact with other children, sports, the outdoors, and an array of other activities. With inclusion specialists, the environment is designed to help children with ASD have their needs met, and broaden their skills and worldview.

Kentucky

Special Touch Getaways: These camps are residential summer camps set in a Christian atmosphere that has medical professionals and volunteers. They offer swimming, fishing, sports, petting zoos, and more.

Maine

Camp CaPella: This camp provides recreational and educational opportunities for people with differing abilities. Within a safe environment campers have the opportunity to grow self-awareness, social interactions, and more. There are also programs within the local community that help serve children and adults with disabilities.

Maryland

Summer Sensations Camp: This full day camp was created for children with learning differences, ASD, sensory processing differences, etc. The program combines knowledge of the professionals from different therapeutic backgrounds to provide an individualized camp experience that promotes camper success.

Massachusetts

CIP Summer Programs: These are available at Berkeley and Long Beach. These summer camps are for teens and young adults with ASD and other learning challenges. The programs help teach skills for the transition to college and adulthood.

Special Touch Getaways: These camps are residential summer camps set in a Christian atmosphere that has medical professionals and volunteers. They offer swimming, fishing, sports, petting zoos, and more.

Michigan

Camp Tall Tree: This is an overnight camp for children and adults with ASD and their siblings and neurotypical peers. They offer four different camp experiences for different people.

Minnesota

Camp – True Friends: This camp provides opportunities for campers to appreciate nature, live and cooperate with others, and share in responsibility of group living. This residential summer camp has sessions that are five, six, and 10 days. It is an interest led by the campers who determine how much they want to participate.

Missouri

Wonderland Camp: This camp is for children, young adults, and adults with ASD and other special needs. They provide a safe environment and adapt to each individual’s needs to provide the best environment so everyone can participate and have fun.

Montana

Special Touch Getaways: These camps are residential summer camps set in a Christian atmosphere that has medical professionals and volunteers. They offer swimming, fishing, sports, petting zoos, and more.

Nebraska

Camp Easterseals: This camp provides an adaptive and fun experience. Campers are encouraged to make new friends or catch up with old ones. With a low staff to camper ratio and an on site registered nurse, the camp is able to have a safer and adapted environment for campers of different abilities.

Nevada

Camp Care Nevada: This camp provides and allows people with disabilities to make friends, explore and find their special gifts and talents, and have fun in a nurturing and warm environment.

New Hampshire

Camp Starfish: With a positive and unique approach to the traditional camp activities, the 1:1 ratio with staff to camper helps provide more engaging opportunities, build social skills, and teach coping mechanisms through the camp program.

New Jersey

Camp Shine: This theater camp helps build self esteem through a performing arts program that centers around those 10 years old and older with autism spectrum disorder and other special needs.

New York

Adirondack Expressions Art Camp: Campers are able to build confidence and social skills in a creative setting.

North Carolina

Camp Lakey Gap: This camp is specialized for people with autism spectrum disorder. There is a 1:1 or 1:2 ratio for campers to counselors that allow for individualized experiences for the campers.

North Dakota

Elks Camp Grassick: This summer day camp specializes in children and adults with physical and intellectual disabilities. They provide specialized therapies for each camper, meeting their individual needs. This allows learning, growth, and making friends while individuals gain independence in a fun, supportive, and accepting environment.

Ohio

Camp Oty’okwa: This camp has a few experiences to choose from that depend on the individual needs and skills of the potential camper. They provide a traditional camp experience, a life skills camp, or different themed camps.

Texas

Down Home Ranch Camp: Children and adults with different cognitive disabilities are invited to attend this summer camp that is set in the country with a swimming pool, basketball hoops, animals to care for, and more.

Utah

Seven Stars: This program is for teens aged 13-17 that is set within a therapeutic environment that is focused on interest and strength base with a social model. The program is goal-oriented and covers different skills and abilities.

Virginia

Camp Gonnawannagoagin: This summer camp specializes in a six week program for individuals with autism. They have programs that focus on communication and behavioral support that individuals could use to succeed.

Could summer camp be for your family?

Summer camps can be as individualized as a person needs, or can allow for more freedom and independence. The traditional camp for children may not be a good fit for the child with autism in your family.

Families who can’t find a suitable option in the list above might wish to check out the Easter Seals, YMCA, Special Touch Getaways, and other programs that are local. Also, calling the local Health and Human Department, Mental Health Services, or talking to the child’s doctor and asking for ideas can provide more local information that may be a better fit.

The summer camps and programs mentioned in this article are not endorsed by Autism Parenting Magazine. The list has been created to help provide a “launch pad” of potential ideas that could help you find that perfect summer camp experience for the person with autism in your life!

References

https://www.angelsense.com/blog/special-needs-summer-camps/

https://blog.stageslearning.com/blog/how-to-choose-a-summer-camp-for-your-child-with-autism

Cronin, K., & Ibrahim, Am. (2020). The Impact of Summer Camp on Social Skills for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/342657580_The_Impact_of_Summer_Camp_on_Social_Skills_for_Children_with_Autism_Spectrum_Disorder



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