Making the Most of the Summer Camp Experience for Autistic Children - Autism Awareness

Making the Most of the Summer Camp Experience for Autistic Children

Summer camps offer a safe and support environment for autistic children to learn, have fun, gain independence, and make new friends. Camps provide an opportunity for outdoor adventure, physical challenge, and a change from the typical daily  routines of home or school. The main goal of camps is to create an inclusive and accepting environment where autistic children can develop their social skills, build self-confidence, and explore new interests. Camps should have trained staff members who understand the unique challenges and strengths of neurodiverse children, supporting them in a way to help them thrive.

The Benefits of Camps

Camps provide numerous benefits for autistic children such as:

  1. Social Skills Development – Interacting with other children and participating in group activities can support the development of social skills such as sharing, conversing, cooperation, listening and turn taking.
  2. Sensory Regulation – Many camps offer a sensory-friendly environment and activities that support sensory regulation such as physical activity.
  3. Routines – Autism camps will follow a structured schedule allowing for predictability which lessens anxiety.
  4. Building Skills for Independence – Campers are encouraged to do things independently like self-care skills. Doing things independently increases confidence and self-reliance.
  5. Connecting with Others – The camp experience provides the opportunity to be part of a group, working with others, and forming new friendships.
  6. Forging New Interests – Many camp activities will be new and can foster a novel interest or expand upon an old one.
  7. Disconnecting from Technology – Engaging in outdoor activities and physical exercise gives children an opportunity to disconnect from tech devices.
  8. Learning New Skills – Opportunities to try new activities are often introduced at camp. My son developed a life long passion for horseback riding after attending a summer camp. I never would have tried that activity on my own.

Preparing Your Child for Camp

Preparation is the key to ensure your child has a positive and successful experience at camp. Here are some key points to think about before your child leaves for camp.

Talk about Expectations and Goals

Explain to your child what the camp experience is all about, what they can expect, and what the goals of the camp are. Outline specific expectations such as participating in activities even if they are new or not preferred, following schedules and routines, and interacting with other children.

Alleviate anxiety by creating visual supports, social stories describing camp drop off and pick up procedures, or visual schedules to help your child understand the camp’s daily routine. These tools support predictability and provide structure to the camp experience.

Packing Essentials and Comfort Items

Certain essential and comfort items will help your child feel comfortable and secure. Here are some ideas:

  • Comfortable clothing and shoes
  • Weather-appropriate attire for both sun and rain such as hats and a light jacket
  • Medications and necessary medical supplies; sunscreen, bug spray
  • Communication aids (if applicable)
  • Favorite toys or comfort objects
  • Ear defenders or noise-cancelling headphones
  • Sensory items (e.g., fidget toys, weighted blankets, stress ball, Tangle toy)
  • Books to read before bedtime or quiet periods of the day
  • Tech devices – some camps won’t allow these so make sure these don’t get packed because they might get confiscated.

Let your child help with the packing, letting them choose some of those comfort objects or items that they consider “essential”. This can offer a sense of control and let your child know what has been packed so there are no surprises.

10 Tips for Transitioning to Camp

Leaving for day or overnight camps can be stressful. Here are some ways to alleviate the anxiety around leaving home for a new environment.

  1. If possible, visit the camp beforehand and meet the counsellors, staff or supervisors.
  2. Ask for a camp schedule ahead of time in order to review it with your child.
  3. Establish a consistent routine before camp starts and gradually introduce any new changes into routines/schedules.
  4. Use tools such as timers and visual schedules to ease anxiety around transitions which will happen throughout the camp day.
  5. Support self-regulation through co-regulation and develop calming strategies for periods of stress and anxiety.
  6. Share information with camp staff about your child’s unique needs (favorite activities, dietary restrictions, triggers etc.) and any strategies that have proven successful in the past.
  7. Talk to your child about having to be flexible. For example, plans may change because of weather.
  8. Let your child know that the staff will be aware of their individual needs and will do their best to accommodate them.
  9. Discuss the types of activities that may occur at camp, but be sure your child understands that you don’t know exactly when and even if they will all happen.
  10. Let your child know how they can communicate with you while they are away at camp. Are phone calls or texts allowed? Does staff send out emails?

Attending camps can be a positive experience for both children and parents. Children can learn to be more flexible and enjoy new experiences without extensive family support. They can build skills and engage in new activities that they may not have tried at home, supporting personal growth. By preparing your child ahead of time for camp, you can lessen anxiety and increase the likelihood success. Enjoy the summer camp adventure!


Hollander, A. (January 20, 2024). Autism Summer Camps: Ultimate Guide for Families. BridgeCare ABA Therapy

Preparing Your Autistic Child for Summer Camp. Autism Learning Partners

Vicker, B. (2008). Considering an Overnight Camp Program for your Child on the Autism Spectrum. The Reporter 13(2), 19-22.

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