Summer Group Programming for Your Child with ASD
- Posted on 28th April 2016
- in Autism, Early Childhood Intervention, group programs, special needs children
- by Michelle McFarlin
As I talked about in my previous post, finding a good summer group opportunity for your child is incredibly advantageous to maintaining the hard earned progress they’ve made during the year, as well as continuing to build upon those skills. However, finding a good fit (and availability!) can be quite the challenge.
Depending on your child’s age and developmental level, you will find a different range of options. For school aged children with good receptive and expressive language abilities, enrolling them in day camps with typically developing peers is a real possibility, as long as the program can meet your child’s needs. For younger children and for children with more difficulty with language and social communication skills, you may require much more specialized summer group programming. Regardless, for children with ASD, there are key components to be considered in order to determine if a given camp could be a fit for your individual child.
Things to Look for in a Summer Program for Your Child with ASD:
- Consistent Structure–When our kids know what to expect, everything is just easier. Ideally, the structure of the day should be presented to your child in a visual format. See my previous blog post on visual schedules. For older children who are literate, you might consider writing down the daily schedule for him and allowing him to carry it in his pocket. By posting or allowing children to carry the daily schedule with them, it allows them to know what they are expected to do now, what is coming next, and that, if an activity is less desirable, it won’t last forever. Use of a visual schedule makes the daily activities more tangible for children and can help to ease transitions between activities.
- Consideration to Sensory Needs–Many children with ASD experience significant sensory challenges in their everyday lives. However, a new environment with new people and new activities may add to these challenges. In choosing an appropriate summer program for your child, be sure that those running the program are: (a) aware of your child’s sensory needs/challenges; (b) willing to make reasonable modifications to allow your child the opportunity to self-regulate when needed. This may include willingness to let them take breaks and carry comforting transitional objects/sensory supports. If your child experiences sensory issues and you have not yet considered sensory integration therapy for him/her, get thee to an occupational therapist! Good sensory integration therapy with a qualified OT with specialization in this area can be a game changer for your child AND your family! For more information on sensory integration therapy available in the Dallas area, please feel free to contact me for referrals.
- Appropriate adult-to-child ratio–Large groups may be overwhelming to your child, placing additional stress on his/her emotional regulation and language processing abilities. Without an appropriate ratio, your child is more likely to experience difficulties following along with the group and is more likely to become upset. Make sure that there will be a caregiver who will be dedicated to watching for your child’s cues that signal poor understanding, or oncoming emotional dysregulation and who is able to help them resolve any potential conflicts.
- Sensitivity to possible language processing abilities–Processing auditory language is a known weakness for many children with ASD. In the presence of this difficulty, programs must be sensitive to your child’s potential need for simplified language, visual (picture symbol) supports, more time to respond to directions and to formulate language, and decreased expressive language demands/public speaking situations, when appropriate.
- If enrolling your child in a “mainstream” camp with typically developing peers–
- Make sure he/she has a buddy. Even with good language skills, large groups in settings that may chaotic at times will be a challenging environment for a child with ASD. Making sure he/she has a “safe” person to stand by their side could make or break the success of the camp. In large group, mainstream situations, a buddy becomes the difference maker in adult-to-child ratios. This buddy should not only have previous positive interactions to build upon (a happy shared history), but also be sensitive to your child’s tendencies, strengths, and challenges. This may involve you sitting down with the buddy child and their parent and explaining the challenges that might lie ahead for your child and how you think he/she might deal with your child if he/she is having trouble. An action plan will be really important for this buddy to have!
- Make sure those running the camp know your child. Please avoid the temptation to try to “slide the under the radar” of those involved in admission to the camp. Though I understand completely the fear that the admissions folks might hear a label and get scared off, if they have a problem with it, you probably aren’t going to want them working with your child. Sorry. Blunt, but true. Make sure that you’ve talked to the people who will be running the camp so that they can get to know your child as an individual. If you’re scared they may be wary of a “label,” just describe your child to them. Tell them about your child’s strengths, weaknesses, tendencies, and coping strategies. Withholding information isn’t fair to those running the camp and most especially it isn’t fair to your child. Please give others the opportunity to love them as they are and to learn to support them as they need. This is a learning opportunity for everyone!
Early Childhood Camps
In the process of trying to find “good fit” summer services for some of my preschool aged consulting clients in the Dallas area, I discovered that there was an epically huge gap between the needs and the availability of appropriate services. So, in the absence of finding good summer group programming for preschoolers with characteristics of ASD, I made my own. We will be offering two two-week sessions of Building Blocks, a “camp” for young children with challenges in the areas of language, social communication, and/or play skills. For more information, please check out Our Services and contact me for more information and/or to register.