April is Autism Awareness Month!
Preparing to Support Autistic Campers this Summer
What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?
“Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), commonly referred to as Autism, is a complex developmental brain disorder caused by a combination of genetic and environmental influences. ASD is characterized, in varying degrees, by communication difficulties, social and behavioural challenges, and repetitive behaviours and is considered to be a lifespan disorder. An estimated 1 in 68 diagnosed children is on the autism spectrum.” (autismspeaks.ca/about-autism/what-is-autism/)
Kids with ASD and camp:
Every child with ASD is different and has different needs. Many children on the autism spectrum are able to participate and are integrated into classrooms, clubs, and activities with typically developing children. Summer camp is a great opportunity for autistic children to gain independence, practice social skills and have FUN. With the right supports, we can help kids with ASD have a successful and memorable camping experience.
How can you help children with ASD and their families prepare for camp?
Evaluate whether the child is ready for camp
This article from the Indiana Resource Center for Autism is a great resource to share with parents who are unsure if their child is ready to come to camp.
Get the Facts
Collect information from the child’s parents about dietary needs, medications, social skills, sensory issues, and what supports the child needs around routines such as bedtime, dressing, hygiene, etc. It is also important to know the child’s behavioural concerns and how they are best managed.
Arrange a Camp Visit
If possible, invite the child and their family to come out and tour the camp.
Explore Support Options
Some children may require one-on-one support or increased supervision in order to have a successful time at camp. Additional supports may take the form of an older sibling or family friend, an external support worker hired by the child’s family, an additional leader in the child’s cabin or a shadow provided by the camp.
How can you help autistic campers to have an awesome experience this summer?
Communication in Key
Setting clear rules and expectations is important for all children. For kids on the autism spectrum especially, it is helpful to give lots of warning for upcoming transitions and changes. For kids who have difficulties with executive functioning (processing how to get things done) it is helpful to break tasks and routines into smaller pieces, using “First, Then” phrases.
Make a Plan
Give the child a basic schedule, make a to-do list that you check off throughout the day, or make a “good day game plan” with goals for the day.
Beware of Overwhelming Conditions
“Most camps make certain assumptions about what children like to do. In fact, they often design their programs around their needs and interests. Experiences such as being in a big group, loud noises, making messes, competing in teams, sharing a room, and arts and crafts are all found in a typical summer camp. However, those who have sensory processing or communicative issues will finds these activities difficult to participate in.” (icare4autism.org/news/2015/05/thinking-about-sending-your-child-with-autism-summer-camp/)
Kids with ASD may struggle connecting with other children or knowing how to appropriately interact with them, which puts them at risk of being excluded by peers. Cabin leaders and other camp staff can help to include the child in group discussions and social activities. They may also need to alter some games and activities so that all children can succeed.