You finally made it through the school year. Despite all the obstacles, your child did pretty well. You even saw him meet some of his IEP goals. But now summer is looming, and you have no clue what to do with him. Ordinary summer camp looks pretty unlikely - after all, how many camp programs offer “social skills” along with “horseback riding?” Here’s how to get the process underway.
Time Required: up to six months
- Start early. These days, even parents of typical kids start early in their quest for the perfect summer camp at the perfect price. For parents of autistic kids, the start should begin even earlier - sometime around September first!
- 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.
- Look into Variety Club and the YMCA. Both have missions that focus on inclusion, and both work hard to make inclusion work. I was able to work with my local Y to add an autism support "bunk" to the typical daycamp.
- Surf the Web. Take a look at My Summer Camps, and Kids Camps for listings of special needs options. While some of these camps can be pricey, others are about the same cost as a nice private daycamp in your area.
- 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 listserve.
- Check newspapers. 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.
- All YMCA's offer financial aid to families in need. Be sure to ask about financial aid if you need it.
- Summer is an especially tough time for families with autistic kids. For most of our kids, unstructured time isn’t relaxing - it’s overwhelming. That’s why a summer program is so critical. Don’t let June roll around before you have a solid plan in place - and plenty of photos of your summer available to create that all-important visual planner.