Engage autism sprectrum disorder (ASD) youth in summer programs

Explore best practices for including ASD youth in summer programs from working closely with parents, to program transitions, to planning for success.

Summer programs for young people with autism spectrum disorder are an opportunity to build a child’s self-esteem, enjoy the hands-on funs of science, art, nature and make new friends!  The Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) impacts each child differently. ASD is an umbrella term which includes classic autism, Asperger syndrome and pervasive developmental disorders.

TheAmerican Camp Association provides helpful tips to summer and camp staff on ASD in the article “Assessing Youth with Autism Spectrum Disorders for Their "Fit" at Camp.”  Additionally, Organization for Autism Research provides resources for educators. 

First, communicate with parents. The more you understand the uniqueness of a child’s ASD, the more effectively you will be able to program. Make sure have a complete medical form with the child’s doctor’s name and phone number, medicications, additional health concerns and if the child has any adaptive devices.

 During the program day of camp, consider the following ideas too:

Be visual.
Heading outside for a summer field trip, hold up a backpack, water bottle or another object that connects with the directions. You might pair simple signs, like a box of crayons to indicate coloring or drawing is a choice.  Being cued into verbal and non-verbal communication such as body language might be difficult for some ASD children. Take a moment to clarify with simple directions andnote that an explanation of abstract concepts is helpful. 

Encourage inclusion.
Camp and summer programs offer a chance for children to make new friends. Create an inclusive and positive social environment for the camper.  Help other campers understand ASD, which will inturn help them learn to respond appropriately. Most importantly, make sure you are modeling and creating the environment you expect.

Be consistent.
A consistent routine and schedule will provide a safe structure for a child with autism.  To prepare for activity transitions, consider using a picture or other cues to signal that you are moving from art to outside games.

Note uniquness.
Remember, too, that many ASD children are either over or under sensitive to touch, smell, lighting, sound, etc.  What might work well with one child might be just the opposite with another.  Drumming might be perfect for one camper but a nightmare for another. 

Create a team.
By creating a team with parents before the summer program or camp, you enable everyone to have successful and fun experiences. Creating a team might also include having a personal care attendant (PCA) with the child. This might be a person who is trained to work with the child and is provided by the family to support the child’s experience.

TheSupporting Children with ASD during summer and camp programs is feasible with planning and creating a safe environment. Youth with ASD can join-in the summer camp and program fun!

Do you suspect a child you care for may have ASD? Early signs of autism can help determine if intervention is needed.

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