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BellaOnline's Autism Spectrum Disorders Editor

Tips For A Better Camp Experience

Even though my children have been attending the same autism daycamp for many years, we still go to the Open House before the official start of camp. This occurs the day before camp starts and is for a two-hour period. During the time frame several families will show up that are alumni and new. Some camps may call this an orientation day.

This helps my kids know where their classroom is, who the teacher and assistant are as well as where to keep their supplies like lunch, swim trunks, snacks, etc. The drive over to camp is not a rushed morning and I note points of interest along the way for my kids to remember.

This transitional day is very helpful for my nonverbal son Matthew as he gets acquainted with the staff and what will be his classroom for six weeks. Prior to the Open House I gather their swim trunks and towels and see what we need to replace. I will need to purchase lip balms and sunscreens. I will also have a copy of his current IEP so that the teacher can take this home and peruse his goals and behavior support plan. This gives the teacher a feel for what is in store for them.

Last year there was a new camper in Nicholas's classroom who was there for Open House and we were able to give him some feedback on where they go for field trips. It turned out that they were pals the entire time and were both at a higher level than the rest of the students in their classroom. It is nice to see how kids have grown over the past school year and welcome new families to C.A.M.P.

If you accompany your child's class at school during the year for field trips you should mention this to your camp at the start or on the application. Most likely you will be asked to go along for the field trip, depending on other factors at the specific camp.

As the result of an incident last year the C.A.M.P. is now requesting that all children who go on field trips wear the C.A.M.P. shirts. I think this is a great idea and something that many schools implement by having the students wear school shirts that are all the same color and mention the name of the school and perhaps City and State. Before each camper would receive one CAMP shirt at the end of the summer session that would be free of charge. This year you pay for the shirt prior to the first day of camp and have it ready for wearing on trips.

For several years one of the trips has two classes walking to the Metro Rail and taking one of the lines to downtown Los Angeles. From there they walk around Olvera Street before going back to CAMP.

Last year a new female student in Nicholas's class fell asleep on the Metro Rail on the way back to CAMP and did not get off at the stop with everyone else. From what I heard Matthew's teacher drove over to the next stops to retrieve her from the train and someone called someone at the system to alert them to this issue. The girl was found sleeping and her parents picked her up. This did take place at the end of CAMP, but she never returned. I probably would have kept my kids home if such an incident had happened to one of my children.

The girl was upset thinking none of the kids liked her. Nicholas's class wrote her reassuring letters that were mailed to her at home. I believe they do have a buddy system in place for the higher functioning kids that means they have to stick together. My son Nicholas had to watch his brother Matthew on this trip since their classes went together. Nicholas did not really like having to be a brother that day instead of just a camper like the other kids, but I was glad that he was in charge of his brother and they arrived safe and sound from that trip. The kids do wear badges around their neck with the cell phone number of the CAMP Director and the name of the CAMP. I will remind Nicholas to be alert and follow directions on all field trips.

Last year there seemed to be several children with behavior issues in the same class as Matthew. Upon entering the class at the end of the camp day it was quite loud and overwhelming for me to hear the screams and shrieks of these children that included gils and boys. This was not something we had never really experiences before and was alarming to see no one intervene.

I was not even sure I wanted to send Matthew back because if any of these children attend this year they would most likely be in the same class again. There are some changes being implemented this year that I find encouraging and I hate to take away the fun that Matthew enjoys at camp.

There are now restrictions on how often a child may have verbal aggressions and only minor self-injurious behaviors will be allowed. Children who are independent dressers or who just require help with shoes is a new requirement. I always try to find velcro shoes for Matthew to wear during summer camp since they go outside for water play.

Some children may require additional support staff if they have verbal aggression and cannot be redirected with self-calming techniques. There may be an additional fee to cover the cost of another adult. Most camps will want to give prior approval if you want an agency person to come and observe camp in session. This is very similar to having another professional observe at school. I tell Matthew's teacher each year about C.A.M.P. and wanted her to observe Matthew and see the difference, but that never materialized and she missed out on seeing him in another setting.

Families can find out at the start of CAMP where they will be going on their field trips and what type of cooking will be taking place. This is the time to go over dietary and medication issues. At the Open House, I always try to get the list of where each class is going on all their walking and driving trips. I like to have this written on my calendar at home and my personal one carried in my purse.

We always look online to find a website of the location they are going to and try to view a map and see the visuals for the place prior to the day of the trip or event. It would be helpful for kids on the autism spectrum if they were part of the planning stages and went online together to see where they will be visiting. This helps in knowing how busy the place will be and if there are any special events taking place or new hours for renovations or special events.

By knowing where the campers are going parents and families can better prepare their child for the event and have them dressed accordingly by watching the weather and preparing their lunch the night before. Camp has never really gone this route with planning and organizing the trips with the class taking part in this stage. I am always surprised to hear parents asking where is the class going on a particular day or not even being aware that there is a field trip that day.

We are looking forward to another summer of camp with my son hoping to see the same kids from last year. This is good for socializing as Nicholas is homeschooling with California Virtual Academy. Matthew is moving onto Middle School and the daily life skills he learns at camp are helpful to him. He gets to try new foods in their cooking segments and follow rules in a group setting.

Summer Camp Programs 2008

Children's Association for Maximum Potential

Children and Summer Camp: Tips for Parents

Easter Seals Camp

Camp Respite

Educational Autism Tips for Families 71 page resourceful ebook for families entering the school system with a recent autism diagnosis. Find out what issues take place over the course of a school day and meet these challenges head on.

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