Summer Camps for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Find the Right Camp for Your Autistic Child

Once the school year is over, many families with children on the autism spectrum are left at loose ends, and that's a problem. Much more than most typically developing children, kids with autism thrive with structure and fall apart when left to their own devices. It's also important to use the long summer months to work on some of the skills that receive less focus during the school year: social skills, collaborative skills, fine and gross motor skills, flexibility, and self-advocacy.

Even if your 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 most kids with autism, fun and games are more challenging than (and at least as important as) academics and school routines.

Luckily, quite a few summer and vacation camps cater to kids with autism. Less luckily, many of the camps listed in the directories listed below are quite expensive. To find day camps and/or less expensive options, check your local camp listings and fairs, and be sure to contact your local YMCA and/or Jewish Community Center (JCC). You may also want to look at scholarship opportunities and programs in your local community that raise funds to provide opportunities for kids in need.

Pool and Teens
Pool and Teens. Pool and Teens

This general camp directory includes many pages of camps that are specifically geared to kids with autism spectrum disorders and related disorders. Be sure your child really fits the specific criteria listed and that the location is right for you.

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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 reviewing those that cater to kids with learning disabilities, intellectual disabilities, and "general disabilities," as many of these may address your child's specific areas of challenge.

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Autism Speaks has a very large resource guide which includes listings of camps by state. Start by choosing your state, and then select the camp category to search. 

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

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

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Very Special Camps is a website dedicated entirely to listings of special needs camps. They list several dozen camps around the country that are specifically dedicated to kids on the autism spectrum.

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YMCA camps are not specifically geared to special needs, but most will work hard to find a way to include your child. If you're more interested in day camp than residential camp, contact your local YMCA. If you have both typically developing and autistic kids, both can attend a Y camp -- and, even better, both you and your kids can take part in year-round Y activities.

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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 Syndrome, which suggests that most of the listings are intended for higher-functioning kids). Search by state.

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Like the YMCA, the JCC strives to include people of all abilities in its programs. Some JCC camps (like the one in Medford, N.J.) have terrific support for inclusion. Others are more than willing to admit your child with a 1:1 aide. And some will work with you to include your 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 your local JCC.

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

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Is Camp Right for Your Child?

Not every child on the spectrum will enjoy the camp experience, but most can benefit from an intensive week of therapeutic fun. Parents, too, will relish a little break from special needs child care, which can be exhausting during non-school months. Before committing to any camp, of course, you'll want to explore their website and information, read reviews, interview staff, and, ideally, visit during the summer with your child. A low counselor-to-camper ratio is very important, but so too are counselor training, quality of programs, medical facilities, and your personal sense that the camp is good fit for your child's interests, needs, and personality.