Summer Fun Awaits: How to Choose the Best Summer Camps for Your Child with Autism - Acorn Health

April 24, 2024

Summer Fun Awaits: How to Choose the Best Summer Camps for Your Child with Autism

This time of year many parents are researching and planning summer camps for their children. That process is time-consuming, and it can be challenging to know which camps are right for your child. There are so many different types of summer camps – specialized camps for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), specialized sports camps, overnight camps, and community-based camp environments.

For children with autism, there is no one “right way” to do summer camp. Your child may thrive in a traditional camp environment or may be better suited for a camp designed for children with disabilities. As you evaluate camp opportunities, it’s important to keep in mind your child’s individual abilities and interests as well as the goals you have for their summer camp experience. Some kids may be better suited to spend that time working on specific skills, such as social skills, while others simply want to have fun and be around their peers in a carefree environment. 

If you have just started exploring camps for your child, you are likely to find that most camps will list various criteria for campers, such as the age range of children they serve. Much of this information will be available on their website or on brochures. 

Specialized camps for kids with ASD and/or other disabilities, as well as camps that are designed to be inclusive, are often attended by children with a wide range of abilities and needs. 

If you’re not sure where to start researching options for summer camps, here’s a list of places to start:

  • Ask your child’s school or ABA therapy group if they have any camp recommendations
  • Talk to your child’s other pediatric therapy providers such as speech or occupational professionals for resources 
  • Check school district and city recreational websites
  • Reach out to local resource groups such as the Center for Autism and Related Disorders (CARD) to see if they have recommendations or programs through their partners
  • Research specialized schools in the area to see if they offer summer programs
  • Look up adaptive sports programs to see if they have summer sessions or camp offerings
  • Ask other autism parents in your community if they have any suggestions or experiences to share with summer camps

Ensuring Your Child’s Needs Are Met

You may find that certain camps have a formal intake process or application where they ask questions to learn more about your child and their abilities and needs. This is a natural opportunity to share details about your child and ask questions about the support that may be available.

If the intake process isn’t enough to fully discuss your child’s needs, you can arrange a time to meet with the camp director. Most directors will appreciate the opportunity to tell you more about camp and  learn more about your child to ensure the camp is the right fit for them. 

Some municipalities employ staff dedicated to helping those with disabilities benefit from all the camp choices offered through their Parks and Recreation Departments.These team members are often known as disability inclusion coordinators or inclusive recreation coordinators. 

Inclusive recreation coordinators work directly with participants, families, caregivers, friends, teachers and Parks and Recreation Department staff to resolve concerns and ensure that appropriate individualized accommodations are in place.Through open communication and by working cooperatively, challenges to inclusion can be overcome.

Examples of accommodations include, but are not limited to:

  • Modifying activities
  • Changing staff-to-participant ratios
  • Providing staff training
  • Monitoring accommodations for effectiveness

5 Signs A Camp May Not Be Accommodating

While so many camps are working toward being more inclusive, there may be some that aren’t going to be right for your child. Here are some signs to look for that may indicate it’s not going to be the right environment for your child to thrive and feel comfortable:

  • The director (or other staff member) seems dismissive of your questions or concerns, they are unlikely to be open to communication during camp as well. 
  • The camp leaders aren’t interested in learning about your child as an individual. 
  • It’s evident that there is no training or support in place for camp staff to learn basics about autism or inclusion for children with disabilities.
  • There seems to be no room to collaborate or problem solve if concerns arise during your child’s time at summer camp.
  • The structure of the camp is either overly rigid or seems to be a free-for-all – most kids will thrive in an environment with clear structure but some flexibility to provide individualized support and choices.

Summertime ABA Therapy

Your child will make incredible memories during summer camp, and it’s also a time of year your child can make immense progress toward their ABA therapy goals. At camp, they will have the opportunity to work on social interactions, communication skills, and other meaningful real-world experiences they have likely been working toward doing in ABA therapy. That said, summer camp is not a replacement for the individualized treatment that is provided during ABA therapy sessions. ABA therapy works best with consistent attendance and fulfillment of prescribed hours, even during the summer.

If your child is interested in attending summer camp, discuss your plans and scheduling needs with your child’s BCBA as early as possible.You can work together with your clinical team to to ensure your child can enjoy a summer camp experience while continuing to make progress with their ABA therapy goals.

To learn more about ABA therapy and how it can help your child work toward important life skills, call 844-871-7417 or visit