Summer Camps for Children With Autism Spectrum Disorder

Kids with autism tend to thrive with structure and may struggle if left to their own devices once the school year ends. The summer months can also be a good time for kids to work on some of the skills that may receive less focus during the school year, such as social skills, collaborative skills, fine and gross motor skills, flexibility, and self-advocacy.

Even if a child qualifies for Extended School Year programs, those programs are limited in length and unlikely to include recreational activities. Recreation may sound like it's just "fun and games," but for many kids with autism, fun and games are more challenging than (and at least as important as) academics and school routines.

Fortunately, there are several summer and vacation camps that cater to kids with autism. Some can be quite expensive, but there are less expensive options as well. Families may also want to look at scholarship opportunities and programs in the local community that raise funds to provide opportunities for kids in need.

Keep in mind that not every child with autism will enjoy the camp experience, but most can benefit from at least a week of therapeutic fun. Furthermore, sending a child to camp for a while can give guardians a much-needed break.

Before committing to any camp, of course, yexplore their website, read reviews, interview staff, and, ideally, visit with the autistic child who will be attending. A low counselor-to-camper ratio is very important, as well as counselor training, quality of programs, medical facilities, and a personal sense that the camp is a good fit for a child's interests, needs, and personality.

Here are 10 camp directories to help get started.

My Summer Camps Directory: Camps for Kids With Autism

Children smiling at summer camp

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My Summer Camps is a general camp directory that also includes information about camps that are specifically geared to kids with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and related disorders. Be sure the child that may be send to the camp fits the specific criteria listed and that the location is convenient.

Federation for Children With Special Needs (Northeastern United States)

The Federation for Children with Special Needs has collected a set of linked camp listings for various disorders. While there is a set of camps that are specifically for kids with autism, it's worthwhile to look into those that cater to kids with learning disabilities, intellectual disabilities, and general disabilities, as many of these may also address a child's specific challenges.

Camp Resource Listings has a large directory of camps for children with autism, which includes the ability to see what camps are available by state. Use the website's refine search bar to find the perfect fit.

Easter Seals Summer Camps

Easter Seals provides summer camps and recreational programs for children and adults of all abilities. These programs are geared solely to people with disabilities, which means they include people with a wide range of disabilities but do not include typically developing peers.

The Center for Children With Special Needs (Northwest United States)

Search by type of camp and type of disability to find the right match for a child. These camps are largely in the state of Washington or nearby.

Very Special Camps

Very Special Camps is a website dedicated entirely to listings of disability camps. It lists several dozen camps around the country that are specifically dedicated to kids on the autism spectrum.

YMCA Camps

YMCA camps for children with disabilities may exist locally, but they're not very widespread. However, most YMCAs will work hard to find a way to include an autistic child. If looking more for day camp than residential camp, contact the local YMCA. If looking for both neurotypically developing and autistic kids, both can attend a YMCA camp—and, even better, both guardians and their kids can take part in year-round YMCA activities.

Kids' Camps Directory: Camps for Kids With Autism/Asperger's

This is another general camp directory, but it includes an impressive collection of camps and programs specifically geared to kids on the autism spectrum (referred to on the site as Asperger's syndrome, which suggests that most of the listings are intended for higher-functioning kids). Search by state.

Jewish Community Center (JCC) Camps

Like the YMCA, the JCC strives to include people of all abilities in its programs. Some JCC camps (like the one in Medford, NJ) have terrific support for inclusion. Others are more than willing to admit an autistic child with a 1:1 aide. And some will work with guardians to include an autistic child without special support. While JCC camps are nominally Jewish, all are open to youngsters from any religious background. To find a local JCC camp, call the local JCC.

Wilderness Inquiry Family and Youth Programs

This organization's mission is to introduce people living with disabilities and their families to wilderness programs and international travel. Accommodations include picture boards and visual supports, special menu planning, and upfront interviews with families to ensure that all needs are met.

1 Source
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  1. Olde dubbelink, LM, Geurts, HM. Planning skills in autism spectrum disorder across the lifespan: a meta-analysis and meta-regression. J Autism Dev Disord. 2017;47(4):1148-1165. doi:10.1007/s10803-016-3013-0

By Lisa Jo Rudy
Lisa Jo Rudy, MDiv, is a writer, advocate, author, and consultant specializing in the field of autism.