Summer camps aren't accessible for my autistic child. I still want him to experience the fun of camp.

Mom posing with her autistic son
The author's son is autistic, and there are no summer camps that can accommodate him.Courtesy of the author
  • Specialized camps are too expensive and not local to us.

  • I  can't find summer camps with needed accommodations like toileting assistance and 1:1 support.

  • I've had bad experiences with childcare facilities, but I still want my child to experience camp.

My autistic son is almost 6 years old, which I thought would mean he would finally have more options for summer camp. What I didn't foresee was that he wouldn't fit into any of them, despite the fact that he is in an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) at school. The one local program that exists doesn't offer toileting assistance, which he requires.

He needs someone to alert him of his toileting needs, as well as help with clothing. His communication style includes echolalia, meaning he repeats back what he hears as confirmation or as a way of making a point. For example, he might reply "hungry" if you ask if he is hungry, but won't clarify what he wants until you give him options to repeat in confirmation. Another example would be when he sings a potty song instead of directly stating he needs to use the bathroom.

There's no summer camp for him

I understand that having one-on-one support for a summer camp is a lot to ask, but there aren't any alternatives to the standard local offerings. There is no drop-off sensory camp or even an option for me to attend as a helper (he is too old for any that involve parent participation). In the past, I've had bad experiences with childcare facilities that promised this kind of support but were unable to accommodate him.

Those bad experiences led to an official diagnosis and enrollment in an IEP. As part of that program, he's entitled to attend an Extended School Year (ESY), which is one month of half-school days, to continue his progress. In the program, he does activities in short increments and expands his communication skills through different approaches.

ESY isn't the same thing as summer camp, though. ESY is meant to maintain the school year structure, avoiding a fresh start next year. I want him to have the most fun possible during the summer, and I know he would thoroughly enjoy anything involving music, water, or outdoor activities. If the short incremental approach could be used in a movement or music summer program, he would do well.

He loves playing with other kids

He might not be able to follow the rules of a game, but he loves running around trying to participate when neighborhood kids are playing basketball or soccer. Instructions can be a challenge, but he can move along to any song and find so much joy in music. But finding an affordable program that offers the fun of soccer or dance with the type of accessibility he needs seems impossible.

There are a few overnight camps far away from us, but they are designed for older kids and are very expensive. The ones that do exist only offer a 1:1 scenario for a limited number of campers, and the rates are very expensive. On average, the cost ranges from $2,000 to $4,00 for five days. Even if I could afford this option, he can not stay overnight without my assistance.

I asked other parents of his classmates and his teacher for suggestions, but no one had any ideas. I don't have the exact number of neurodivergent kids in the area, but I know that the schools are doing a lot more to support parents during the school year than they did when I was a kid. What I don't understand is why that support doesn't extend to other kid activities locally.

So once again, I will cobble together the most entertaining summer I can manage with the help of the community pool and local library. Hopefully, there will be more options next year.

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