In this article I explore ideal summer camps for your autistic teen. While the thought of planning out your next summer may be way off your radar, the winter months are actually the best time to do some research. You can discover what is available in your area as well as apply for early-bird special rates and even scholarships.
The Ideal Time to Explore Summer Camps for Autistic Teens is…WINTER!
Right now, the holiday decorations are out. People are buying last minute gifts before Christmas. Kids anticipate the jolly guy any day now. Summer seems eons away.
But early winter is the best time to start planning for the summer months if you are toying around with the idea of a camp experience. Even if the thought of sending your autistic child away from home for more than a day is scary, I urge you to still explore options.
- Summer camp registrations often open in the winter or early spring. It’s usually a “first-come, first-served” process. It’s best to sign-up before it fills up.
- Many offer early-bird rates for signing up early. For example, EasterSeals in Indiana offers $100 off if you register in the winter versus in the spring.
- Some give scholarships. If you dependent on financial help to get your child to summer camp, it’s best to apply and know whether you got accepted before applying with a deposit.
- If you are thinking of taking a family vacation as well, you’ll need to know dates of these summer camps.
Where to Begin Exploring Summer Camp Options
You can start with a simple Google search. But it may take a lot of time to find what you are looking for.
Explore your options through the American Camp Association. Filter by the type of experience you are looking for and by location. When you refine your search, be sure to scroll down to “Disability and Special Needs” and filter by “Autism” or any other criteria.
The “Very Special Camps” website lists many camps around the country. Filter your search by your state and program type to see what is available in your area for your child’s particular needs.
For those living in Indiana, the Indiana Resource for Autism has provided a terrific list of summer camp programs. These include residential day programs as well as overnight camps.
Here are some other specific suggestions to explore for ideal summer camps for autistic teens:
Special Autism Camps
Some summer camp programs are only geared toward those with special needs, including serving those with autism in particular.
Easterseals sponsors Camp Rocks in central Indiana. Many states have Easterseals programs, so hopefully you can find something close by well-suited for your needs. They also have early-bird registration that will save you about $100 on the registration fee.
My daughter has participated in this camp for the last two summers. It is a week-long and specially designed to provide a fun experience for autistic teens and respite for their parents. She loves it, and I love it! She really enjoys performing impromptu skits with other campers.
Every staff at Camp Rocks is well-trained to handle behavioral situations related to autism. Several are specifically wanting to work autistic youth in future careers, so you know they have a heart for serving your child.
Your Local Therapy Agency
Some agencies sponsor camps themselves. Some might be day camps while others are overnight experiences. For example, my respite agency LEL provides offers special weekend getaways at a camp during the summer. Or, we can participate in their monthly meet-ups at a horseback riding stable or lake for swimming. Ask if your therapeutic agency if it sponsors or knows of any summer camps ideal for your autistic teen.
Traditional Summer Camps
Hopefully there are some traditional programs that might be well-designed to accommodate the needs of your autistic teen.
Local City Parks and YMCA
Not all summer camps offer accessible programs for specifically for autistic teens. But don’t also assume your local YMCA or city park will not have accommodations already in place. It may not be evident on their promotional material that they serve those with autism.
Call them up to see if they have staff trained for assist special needs. You may need to share exactly what kinds of accommodations your autistic teen needs (i.e. dietary, sensory, visual schedule, etc.). Then they can match you with the best program. Check out this search feature through the YMCA to find a local resident day program or an overnight camp.
This article by the Indiana Resource Center for Autism may answer a few questions you have about if non-special needs organization can and should accommodate for autism.
Scouts BSA offers a wide variety of fun summer camp activities. If your son or daughter has joined a troop and you are unsure how he or she may handle a week-long summer camp away from home (and you) for the first time, check out my article Autism Preparations for Scout Summer Camp. I provide tips for preparing your scouter before the grand experience.
Definitely let the camp director know ahead of time what kinds of accommodations your teen or pre-teen will need while at camp. She/He will have to alert particular staff (cook, nurse, merit badge counselors, etc.) about your child’s needs. Here is another resource to share with your scout leader when you register for summer camp: “Preparing for Summer Camp”
Ease Into the Camp Experience (if Necessary)
If the idea of leaving your autistic teen at a camp all week away from home gives you pause, then consider doing day-camps nearby. Get him or her used to the idea of camp activities and interacting with others.
See about registering 1- or 2-nights for overnight camps that are within an hour from home. If something happens, you can easily pick up your child.
For any summer camp inquiry, always ask if there is a scholarship opportunity available. It often is not apparent on their websites. If they have deadlines, then they will most likely be in the winter or spring. That’s why it’s so important to start your research now.
Search NOW for Ideal Summer Camps for Autistic Teens
I urge you to take some time before spring hits to discover the perfect summer camp opportunity for your autistic teen.
Summer camp experiences last a lifetime. They are great for making memories and building relationships beyond the program. My daughter and I got together to hang out with one young girl she befriended and her mom a few times after the camp.
Summer camp gives teens confidence that they can manage their own lives without mom and dad around. My son took his summer camp experience to a new level when he started working living there for 6 weeks (only coming home on weekends).
You never know the kinds of growth that can come with taking a leap into a new supportive environment with new faces. I’m so glad we took a chance on our summer camp experiences!