Every year my oldest son Ross goes to day camp. Every summer he has a blast, makes new friends and learns amazing new skills. He has autism and is currently six years old but has gained so much by going to day camp every year. Camp, day or overnight, can be an amazing place for children with special needs including autism. Here are my big reasons why you should consider sending your child with autism to summer camp:
To Learn New “Camp” Skills
The list of skills that a child with autism will learn at camp is extensive and varied. Camps offer everything from archery to cooking and more. The best part about these skills isn’t that your child learns to start a campfire but that they are a great way to build self confidence. Ross has gotten pretty good at swimming by going to day camp and he’s super proud of this skill. It’s been amazing to watch him really feel great about himself about an activity. He’s never really shown interest in a sport before and during the year he doesn’t have a lot of time to do extracurricular activities because of his therapy
To Learn Life Skills
Camp is also the first time Ross got on a bus and the first time he got himself (mostly) changed by himself to go swimming everyday. He keeps track of his own stuff at camp and has learned to do so many things more independently. He is well supported by his counselor but his activities of daily living skills as well as his confidence to do them also improves.
To Improve Strength and Motor Skills
Ross, like other children with autism, struggles with coordination issues as well as core strength. The constant running, games, swimming, obstacle courses and more help Ross with his gross motor skills and strength every summer. It’s like sending him to occupational therapy eight hours a day without him knowing (and sometimes complaining) about having to work on his strength.
To Get Near Constant Social Interaction
This was the part that worried me the most about Ross going to camp. The social interactions at school are, for the most part, more organized than those at camp. There are lots of informal social interaction, lots of games and other social interaction that needs to be navigated. With the help of his one to one aide Ross is able to navigate these situations with his neurotypical peers. He not only survived the social interaction (as I had feared he wouldn’t) but he has made some amazing friends and lasting relationships with his counselors.
To Feel a Sense of Belonging
There is something different about camp. It is more inclusive, less judgemental and they will feel like they belong there. Ross has relayed this to me in his own way and I can see it in the way he acts when we visit camp.
Sending my child with autism to summer camp was a leap of faith after months of researching. Finding a camp that will support your child with autism can sometimes be overwhelming. There are day and overnight camps, inclusion programs, camps geared solely towards those with special needs and autism and even more option in terms of camps for children with autism. We were lucky to find the
JCC Chicago and Keshet to be a great fit for Ross. I would encourage anyone with a child with autism to strongly explore what options are available in your area because for Ross his summers have truly been life changing.
Has your child with autism been to camp? How did they like it? Tell me in the comments below then check out my articles on great books for parents of kids with autism and ways to trick your child into better fine motor skills!