Overnight Camp

Summer camp can be a grand adventure or an extraordinary disaster for individuals with autism. 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 nuggets of wisdom from a mom whose daughter literally hated summer camp. Mom, a music therapist and behavior specialist, gradually implemented these strategies, and now her daughter loves summer camp.

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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. Avoid using summer camp as 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 aspect 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 keyring clipped to their shorts.

TIP FOR THE DAY: Surrounding your camper with familiar sights and smells from home minimizes stress and maximizes camping fun.

NOTE TO READERS AND LISTENERS: I am Cathy Knoll, a board certified music therapist and long-time friend of many folks with autism. At FAQautism.com 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 talk@FAQautism.com And don’t forget to check out our website for a wealth of ideas and a glimpse into the world of autism. http://FAQautism.com

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