If you’re planning to send your child to an autism-friendly camp, it’s never too early to start thinking about they should go. And if you’re hoping to make a mainstream program work for your child, you’ve got some searching, questioning and negotiating ahead of you. Here’s a few tips on getting the search started.

  1. Start early. All parents, even parents of children without special needs, begin their search for the perfect camp at the perfect price months ahead of time. For parents with autistic children, the earlier they start the sea rch – the better!
  2. Find out what kind of Extended School Year (ESY) program is offered through your school district. ESY is a federally funded option for kids whose skills are likely to regress during extended breaks. If your child does qualify, he may be eligible for a free summer program. Some districts will supply a 1:1 aide so that your child can be included in a typical summer camp. Transportation is included.
  3. Look into Variety Club and the YMCA. Both have missions that focus on inclusion, and both work hard to make inclusion work. All YMCA’s offer financial aid to families in need. Be sure to ask about financial aid if you need it.
  4. Surf the Web. Take a look at My Summer Camps, and Kids Camps for listings of special needs options. While many might be pricey, others may be about the same cost as a nice day camp in your area.
  5. Ask around. Your teacher, principal, or parents of kids in your child’s class may have great ideas. Another good option: post a question to your local Autism Society of America’s list server, or find out through a support group!
  6. Check newspapers or magazines. Special “parenting” magazines in many metropolitan areas create camp directories. These are usually published in early winter. Many include listings for camps that cater to kids with special needs.


Steps for deciding on a summer camp:

1. What are you hoping your child gets out of this experience?

Various types of camps exist such as:

  • Inclusion camps
  • Camps focused on one special need
  • Camps that accept children with all types of special needs
  • Therapeutic camps
  • Recreation camps
  • Day camps
  • Sleep away campsConsider what your child would be the most comfortable with and what they need. For example, if your child is having trouble in reading and speech, parents may not want to send their child to a camp where they are playing 8 hours a day.
  1. Ask yourself the following questions:
    • What kind of activities interests my child?
    • What new things should they be learning?
    • What do they do well?
    • Do they need close supervision, counselor assistance or full assistance with tasks?
    • Do they need physical accommodations like wheelchairs, special seating, etc.?
    • Do they have medical needs such as diabetes or allergies?
    • Can the child communicate their needs and wants to the camp staff when necessary?
  2. Do the proper research.The American Camp Association (ACA) provides a questionnaire in which parents can find camps that are perfectly fit for their children (www.find.acacamps.org). Chat with your neighbors or your children’s teachers about some camps they would recommend.
  3. Speak with the camp director about your child’s special needs.Make sure that the camp will be able to accommodate your child (proper counselor training, proper diet, allergies, etc.) Tell them what to expect from your child and ask if they can handle such situations. If you are honest with the camp about your child’s disability, it will make for a more enjoyable experience for your child.
  4. Ask about financial aid.Camps can be expensive especially specialty camps. Some camps offer scholarships or “camperships” for children with disabilities that some may be eligible for. If the camp offers therapeutic services, you may be able to submit a claim for insurance.
  5. Visit the campsite.Families can see first hand the activities your child will be involved in. They can get acquainted with the camp counselors and get to know the grounds. Bring your child to make them more comfortable with the environment as well.

For help finding a summer camp near you, contact our Autism Help Hotline!