Summer camp offers a positive experience for children with autism. It provides an enriching environment for your child to continue ABA therapy practices while expanding social, communication, and overall general life skills. However, finding the best fit for your child’s goals and needs can be overwhelming and will require some thorough research on your part. Allow us to help guide you through the basics of finding a summer camp to accommodate your family’s needs best.
Summer Camp Benefits for Children with Autism
Children with autism tend to thrive with consistent routines, making summer camp a fantastic opportunity to continue their growth. Transitioning into a summer camp offers your child additional time to work on ABA therapy services in a natural, enjoyable environment. Your child will learn to strengthen skills by focusing on speech therapy, social skills through art therapy, and additional group activities. Summer camp is a wonderful way to reinforce ABA therapy practices while allowing your child to explore, experience, and flourish.
Research suggests children with autism thrive in intensive, year-round ABA therapy. Maintaining consistency helps prevent regression in the skills and progress your child has been making. Summer camps offer a setting for all children with autism to continue ABA therapy practices outside the clinic or classroom. Camps allow exposure to sports, creative activities, animals, and nature.
Summer camps offer an environment of peer models for your child to learn from. They provide children with high-functioning autism a chance to interact with typically developing children in all-inclusive camp settings. Their social interactions strengthen their communication skills through the ongoing use of speech therapy tactics during activities like art therapy, physical fitness activities, and other group activities.
Summer Camp for Social Skills
Children with autism typically prefer solitary activities rather than interacting with others. They often experience difficulty engaging with and cooperating in group settings. While reading social cues and communicating their wants and needs are challenging, summer camp helps strengthen these necessary life skills. By continuing ABA therapy practices in a summer camp setting, children continue to work towards creating life-long skills.
Integrating Art Therapy
When searching for a high-quality camp, inquire about their art therapy curriculum. Art therapy offers tremendous benefits, including increases in:
- Executive functioning skills
- Sensorimotor functions
- Self-esteem and self-awareness
- Cognitive skills
- Social skills
Art therapy offers a safe environment for your child to experience sensory exploration and express themselves without the pressures of verbal communication. Art therapy opens a whole new avenue for your child to enhance their creativity while developing a better understanding of the world.
Integrating Speech Therapy into Summer Camp
By integrating speech therapy practices in conjunction with art therapy, your child learns to read cues, express wants and needs, and develop or strengthen overall communication skills. Speech therapy best practices during summer camp activities help promote various methods of communicating with staff and peers. Activities may address speech therapy concerns, including humming, parroting, or yelling, while replacing these behaviors with more effective language skills.
Finding the Right Summer Camp
To help you begin your research, the American Camp Association offers a list of accredited summer camps which will maintain focus on your child’s ABA therapy goals. Before researching your summer camp options, make a list of must-haves. Do you prefer a more relaxing setting for your child to focus on social interactions? Perhaps you prefer a camp offering extra speech therapy. You’ll be able to sort through hundreds of recommendations and specify these wants and needs when exploring the ACA site.
Summer camps are not a one-size-fits-all, and your selection should support your child’s ABA therapy goals to provide the most successful experience. Camp programs include:
- Inclusive Summer Programs – An inclusive program that will integrate typically developing children and children with special needs. Children with various strengths and abilities are welcome, while staff, therapists, and activities offer challenges and support for everyone’s needs.
- Specialized Summer Programs – Summer camps for children and teens with autism and other special needs offer a more direct ABA therapy These camps work towards the continuous development of your child’s goals, preventing the regression summer breaks may bring. Specialized summer camps use tools, including speech therapy methods, to enhance successful social interaction with peers and staff during activities.
- Extended School Year Programs (ESY) – If your child is of school age, their school may recommend a summer camp program if they feel your child is at risk of regression over the summer. ESYs vary in each school and state, but their overall design is to help children with autism continue to work towards their Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) using ABA therapy tools and practices.
Trustworthy Recommendations for Summer Camps
As with any program, reach out to your support group and other families for recommendations. Ask about their experiences, including success stories and struggles. Talking to other parents who have children with autism will give you great insight into your local programs. Your child’s therapists and special education teachers can also provide recommendations and guidance according to your child’s strengths and struggles. Finding a high-quality program from trustworthy sources is invaluable.
And don’t be afraid to ask the camp for parent references. Programs should be willing to accommodate your needs and answer all your questions to ensure a proper fit. Prepare a list of questions and inquire about their methods, priorities, and best practices. You may wish to include questions from our staff’s helpful list to ensure alignment with your child’s summer goals:
- What licensure does your camp have? Does your staff have ABA therapy training?
- Do you provide speech therapy or art therapy?
- What credentials and qualifications do the rest of your staff have?
- If an inclusive program – what is your camp’s philosophy regarding integrating children with special needs into the general population of campers?
- What structures and activities are put in place to help integrate campers?
- What does your camp’s daily schedule of activities include?
- How does your staff communicate with each family to provide progress, updates, tips for home, and respond to questions?
- What are your medical and emergency protocols?
- If the camp is specialized – what is your philosophy on encouraging socialization and skill-building? How do your activities and staff support these goals?
- Do you offer scholarships, grants, or other financial assistance?
While finances are indeed a significant factor with summer camp, there may be help. Keep in mind, all programs and states vary. Some summer camps offer grants and scholarships to ease the burden for your family. Your child’s ABA therapy clinic may also provide grants or have resources to offer you in your search. Don’t forget to enlist the help of:
- Your child’s school district
- Local community clubs, including Kiwanis, Rotary, and Lions
- The Autism Support Network – you’ll find an interactive list of various organizations that offer local grants to families.
Summer camp provides an incredible experience for your child while strengthening the skills and behaviors they learn in their therapy and school settings. From art therapy to speech therapy, summer programs can offer your child continuous growth during the summer months. For additional resources, contact us today and allow our team to assist you with your child’s summer needs.