What age should I let my child go to a summer camp for kids with autism?
This can be a complex question to answer.
Usually it depends on a parent’s personal camp experience. Adults who grew up attending a sleep-away summer camp are more likely to understand the benefits a summer camp has to offer and are more likely to allow their child to have an independent experience at a younger age.
For parents who never had a sleep-away camp experience the thought of their child EVER going to camp (without them) is unimaginable. When we talk to parents during tours at camp they often share with us that “she’s not ready for camp” or “he’s not ready for camp.” They actually mean that they, as parents, are not ready. Realizing that your child with special needs can be okay without you is sometimes difficult for parents, and it’s a big step to allow their child to have the independent experience of a summer camp for kids with autism.
For parents of younger first time campers, ages 7 – 12 years old, you know your child is ready for camp if . . .
- Your child has a basic grasp of their daily living skills. This means they can use the bathroom independently, but may need reminders about wiping or washing hands. They can shower with prompts and reminders from staff, but may still need help washing their hair. They can brush their teeth but will need staff oversight to make sure they do a good job.
- Your child is ASKING to go. This usually happens when younger siblings visit or hear about camp from older brothers and sisters. Ari and I often do camp fairs together where an older kid is coming to hear about camp, and the younger siblings are begging their parents to let them go to camp as well.
- As parents, you are confident in your child’s ability to be away from you. And you are able to express that confidence to your child. And YOU can handle the separation.
- Your child is watching Camp Lee Mar videos on YouTube, looking at camp pictures on Facebook and Instagram.
It is okay for parents and first time campers to be nervous. Even adults get nervous in new situations. Keep all talk of camp positive, sign up and complete the interview process, but don’t talk about camp too much other than answering child-led questions. Sometimes talking about camp too much, too far in advance if your child is anxious, can create more anxiety.
It’s actually easier to start coming to camp between 7 to 10 years old and work through any anxiety without also contending with puberty. We have very few openings in our older age groups, and older campers who are anxious about camp generally have a harder time adjusting to being away from home if they have never been given that experience.
For parents of older first time campers, over 12 years old, you know your child is ready for camp if . . .
- Your camper needs friends! Your best memories were not hanging out with your parents at this age! It is time to let your child have some fun, independent experiences!
- A friendship circle! Your child will likely not be the only first year camper in his/her cabin. There will be fewer new campers in the older age groups as our younger campers usually stay with us until they are 21, but our campers are very welcoming. The biggest concern from our parents of older campers is that they did not take the leap earlier to allow their child to attend camp. This leaves the campers and parents disappointed that they had so few summers to enjoy at camp before their camper ages out!
- You want to give your child the gift of early independence to help them develop the skills they need to thrive as a young adult! Your camper is going to have a great time while working on all the daily living skills and social skills needed to be an independent adult!
Seriously – if your child is open to a camp experience, please let them go! Ari and I have been at camp fairs where a mother with a child taller than she is tells us, in front of her child, “He’s way too young to be away from me, I don’t know what I would do without him.” It makes us feel so sad that a kid who is obviously so ready for camp, who longingly looks at camp pictures and is asking his own questions, knows that his parent does not have the confidence in him to let him go.
We will happily discuss if Camp Lee Mar is the best fit for your child, we want what is best for them too. If you and your child are ready, please reach out to us. The gift of friendship, independence and self-confidence is the most important thing you can give to your child at any age.
Written by Lynsey Trohoske
My name is Lynsey Trohoske, I am the assistant director at Camp Lee Mar. I have three amazing children, my middle child happens to be on the autism spectrum and is a camper at Lee Mar. I joined camp as a counselor in 1998 and loved the campers and their families so much that Camp Lee Mar became my second home!