I won’t lie, this time of year typically throws me into a panic. Memories of being burned repeatedly and having my poor son bounced from program to program each summer makes me dread the search for a summer camp solution that is within a single parent’s budget yet offers my child the support he needs.
I always assume that providing all pertinent information, tips, schedule samples, copies of the IEP, challenges, typical behaviors, and dietary restrictions up front will be sufficient and ensure success for all parties involved. Then, usually a week in, I get a call from the director who acts blatantly surprised and shocked that my son is having problems in large, loud groups and is acting out.
My all-time favorite exchange with a camp director was when my child was expelled from the Recreation Center program for the fact that he had to be watched. Devastated, I reminded him that I interviewed with him personally about my son’s situation, filled out all the appropriate support forms, and even provided extra sensory items. “You assured me you were equipped for special needs children.”
“Main stream special needs,” he replied.
“Main stream special needs? What does that mean?” I asked.
“Kids that act like everyone else.”
Ouch. Ignorance at its finest. I didn’t fight him, because I no longer wanted my son there anyway! Trust me, we never let the door hit us on the way out
Anyway… I think this list of questions for prospective summer camps for your child with Autism may help. I don’t want anyone to go through what I have these past few years!
Questions for Prospective Summer Camps for My Child
- What is the teacher/child ratio?
- Does the staff have experience or background in Autism and Sensory Integration issues?
- How are disruptive, sensory-seeking behaviors handled?
- Is anyone qualified to dispense medications (if applicable)? What is the procedure?
- Is there ample staff to watch my child at all times (who may be prone to wandering)?
- How many breaks will be provided?
- Are there other special needs children enrolled in the program (if it is not a special needs camp)?
- Are there alternative plans for field trip days if my child does not go? If he/she does attend and has a meltdown at the venue, how is it handled?
- What behaviors are absolutely not tolerated, and what warning system is in place for parents?
- How do you communicate best with parents regarding day to day progress?
- Can my child bring food from home due to a restrictive diet?
- How are behavior issues handled in general? (not sensory related)
- Are toys or comfort items from home allowed?
Hopefully this gets you started down the right road in finding a great fit for your child. The answers to these questions should provide a good indicator of the facility’s willingness to put your child’s success before their convenience or fulfillment numbers!