Summer Camp

A mom sent a wealth of ideas to help youngsters with autism adjust to summer camp. The extreme change in location and routine as well as the absence of familiar people, food, bed, and home can be very traumatic for individuals who are focused on sameness. Today’s podcast contains just a few nuggets of wisdom from this experienced mom to help her daughter eventually learn to love summer camp. Other ideas will follow in future podcasts.

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This mom said that the five days her daughter spent at camp every summer were pure gold for both mom and kid. It was the only time that mom had complete rest and time alone for an extended period of time. And, although it took several summers to adjust to the camping routine, her daughter actually began to look forward to camp each summer.

Over the years, Mom learned that the potential trauma of being ripped away from familiar surroundings for five days and nights required more than the usual preparation for transition to new activities. Here are some of her tips for successful camping experiences.

Although it is tempting to purchase new shoes, underwear, shirts, shorts, swimsuit, pillow, and toothbrush for our youngster to take to camp, family members need to remember that individuals with autism really do prefer their own familiar items. Going away to camp is not a catalyst to refit a youngster’s wardrobe, bedding, or toiletries.

Sometimes growth spurts make a new pair of summer sandals or a new swimsuit absolutely necessary. You can “break in” new clothing, pillows, or toothbrushes by purchasing them several months in advance of the camp. That allows the youngster to use them for a long time, making the items very familiar before heading for a week at summer camp.

The most problematic aspects of overnight camping for many kids with autism is bedtime. During the first day, the youngsters are usually mesmerized with swimming, campfires, and other traditional camp activities. But, when bedtime comes around, the reality of being far from home hits hard. That transition can be eased if the youngster can snuggle in his bunk with his own pillow, his favorite sheets and blanket, his favorite pajamas, and his favorite teddy bears.

This mom suggests that campers take two or three familiar objects to help them feel more comfortable at camp. She said that when her daughter took just a few favorite objects, she was much more calm from day one. Comfort objects that work well in a camping setting include things like a favorite book, stuffed animal, or pocket-sized photo album. Of course, you need to check camp policies well in advance because some have policies against campers bringing personal items from home. If that is the case, work with the staff to figure out some “comfort items” that work with camp policy. For example, your youngster may be satisfied with wearing their favorite t-shirt and shoes every day and carrying a small laminated picture of their family on a key-ring clipped to their shorts.

We welcome your input. Share challenges and ideas based on your experiences or intuition. Just click on the comments button or send an e-mail to

NOTE TO READERS AND LISTENERS: I am Cathy Knoll, a board certified music therapist and long-time friend of many folks with autism. At we are committed to providing free, practical, everyday tips for making life better for people with autism. Feel free to send me an email with your thoughts or challenging situations or innovative solution. Send email to And don’t forget to check out our website for a wealth of ideas and a glimpse into the world of autism.

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