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5 Key Questions in Choosing a Summer Camp

Family Members + Caregivers

At a Glance

As summer gets closer, for many families, it becomes time to start thinking about summer camps.

There are many great options for summer camps for the autistic individual in your life to be a part of.

We've shared 5 questions to guide you in your search for a summer camp. Whether you're looking for inclusive programs in your community to autism specialized camps.


Summer camps are a great option for many autistic kids, teens, and also adults to participate in. Just like their peers, it is an amazing opportunity to connect with more people their age, to engage in activities they love and new to them, and most importantly: have fun!


As you consider summer camp options for your child (or even better, with your child), there are plenty of questions around what to look for. Let's dive in!

Disclaimer: The summer camps and programs mentioned in this article are not specifically endorsed by Autism Grown Up. The guide and list has been created to provide a starting point and guidance along your summer camp journey.

1. What Summer Options Are Out There?

There are a multitude of summer camp options available for your autistic child to go to. It depends on what they want to do, finding a good fit, and level of support and supervision a camp provides.


Summer camps can vary in scale for freedom and independence, specialization, individualization, and level of support.


So a traditional camp experience, an inclusion camp, or a highly specialized autism/disability camp may or may not be something you're looking for.


As you look into summer camps, these are the main categories they fall into:


Autism Specialized Programs

  • Autism camps specific to autistic children, teens, and adults
  • Can be local to you or further away
  • Will state age ranges
  • May also have specific weeks for certain age ranges (e.g., Teen Week) 
  • Only autistic individuals are campers. 
  • Vary from day camps to overnight camps
  • Level of supervision and supports vary from camp to camp (important to ask about this if pertinent to you!)
  • Staff receive specialized training in autism and how to individualize

I/DD or Disability Specialized Programs

  • Will specifically state which disability or general disabilities the programming is for
  • Can be for children, teens, and adults - will also state age ranges
  • Level of supervision and supports vary from camp to camp (important to ask about this if pertinent to you!)

Extended School Year Programs

  • Offered in the community and by the school district
  • Day programs
  • Frequently for students in special education with IEPs or who are eligible for programming in the summer

Community Summer Camp Programs

  • Inclusion efforts vary (key to ask about this if pertinent to your needs!)
  • Offered in the community (e.g., YMCA)
  • Day programs, some overnight
  • Often centered around a topic, interest, or hobby (e.g., sports, coding, religion, scouting)

2. Where Can I Get Information on Camps Near Me?

At first glance, researching summer camps can be overwhelming, especially online. Thankfully, more resources and directories are popping up to help guide your research.


Read more from this list of camp directories across the options we've listed above


It is also helpful to ask around in your community. Some camps are so small that they don't have an easy to find online presence. 


Some word of mouth people and groups to ask:

  • You can ask your child's teachers if they've heard of any programs in the community or know of where their other students have attended in the past.
  • Local autism parent support groups - that meet online or have a Facebook group
  • call the local Health and Human Department or I/DD agencies

3. How Do I Choose the Best Summer Camp?

An amazing summer camp experience begins with the individual in mind. 


As a parent and family member, you may have a pretty good idea of what your child is looking for in a summer camp, but also their day to day needs, interests, and goals.


Here is a quick interest survey you could do with the autistic individual in your life:

  1. What do you want to do this summer?
  2. When you think of summer camp - what do you think would be the most fun part for you?
  3. When you think of summer camp - what do you think would be the least fun part for you?
  4. Do you want to learn more about ____ [insert summer camp activity here]?

4. What Also Should I Be Looking for in a Summer Camp?

Everyone has differing considerations around selecting a summer camp. We've combined a list of common considerations, qualifications, and needs from parents, families, and self-advocates around summer camps.

  • Application deadlines
  • Clothing requirements
  • Checklists provided?
  • Transportation provided?
  • Is the program accessible for individuals with physical disabilities?
  • Does the American Camping Association (ACA) accredit the camp?
  • What camping accreditations does the camp have?
  • Does the camp meet state and local health standards and regulations for the operation of camps?
  • What does training for counselors look like?
  • What are the criteria for hiring counselors (e.g., education, experience)?
  • What is the ratio of counselors to campers?
  • Does the staff include a nurse and/or a doctor?
  • What types of facilities are available?
  • What does the typical daily schedule look like?
  • What types of accommodations are provided?
  • How does the camp navigate the unexpected (e.g., emergencies, challenging behavior)?
  • What do cabins look like?
  • Are scholarships/fee reductions available?
  • Is the program flexible or highly structured?
  • Are activities age-respectful?
  • Do activities support individuals' interests and goals?
  • Do activities support individuals' self-advocacy?
  • What level of support is provided during the stay?
  • What will the staff do if a camper has a meltdown?
  • Are breaks provided?
  • What do meals look like?
  • Are menus flexible?
  • Can we bring our own food?

5. What Should I NOT Be Looking for in a Summer Camp?

Everyone also has differing considerations around what they're not looking for in a summer camp. We've combined a list of common concerns, issues, and red flags from self-advocates, parents, and families around choosing summer camps. Note some are contradictory to each other - but key to remember that each person may be looking for different things in a camp.

  • Lack of flexibility
  • Lack of accommodations
  • Heavy focus on social skills
  • Teaching social skills (social norms and body language)
  • Focus on decreasing "problem behavior"
  • Too behavior-focused 
  • Lack of inclusion
  • Lack of training amongst counselors
  • Not enough support (we need 1:1 staff to camper ratio)
  • Too much support (we're looking for more freedom and independence)
  • Not even options for activities
  • Not enough fun!
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