Children On The Autistic Spectrum

• Narrate or “scaffold” social interactions for campers with poor social skills. Say, “Chris didn’t hear you because you weren’t looking at him.” Or, “Everyone likes a chance to talk. If you listen to Scott for a while, he might want to listen to you again.”

Communicate visually.

• Write out rules, schedules, and camp-specific procedures. Post them in appropriate settings. If the staff knows in advance that a camper has autism, schedules can be emailed to his or her parents, and they can help prepare the child.

• Demonstrate activities, games, and projects with gestures, drawings, and demonstrations while explaining them verbally.

• Allow campers to watch first before they jump into an activity. Narrate the behavior of other children you are observing.

• Use notes and drawings to process incidents after the fact, instead of merely talking.

• Write an explanatory note to campers who aren’t fitting in. For example, “Most people shower every day at camp to avoid smelling bad. Please take a shower tonight and every night at camp. Use soap and shampoo. Put on deodorant after you dry off. Tell me if you are missing soap, shampoo, or deodorant.

Create flexible programming.

• Bookend the staff. Use a “front of the pack” counselor who leads the first campers in transition, and a “straggler” counselor who can arrive later with any campers who take longer.

• Create alternate versions of games or projects when planning activities, so campers can access them at various levels. For example, a soccer game could have a passing or goal-kicking game on the side.

• Avoid forcing children to participate. Train staff to carry backpacks of alternative activities (Frisbees, notebook, markers, cards, etc.) so campers who refuse to participate in the main activity can be happy nearby.

• Minimize ”unstructured time.” If everyone else has free time, provide several concrete options for the autistic camper, and let him or her choose from that list.

In Max’s case, his counselor and camp director wrote him a note telling him that it would be easier to make friends if he did what the other kids were doing, right when they were doing it. He was startled at this reasoning, but willing to try. Max then proceeded to join his group for many more activities. A few boys in his cabin also included him in their talent-show act, where his different humor was showcased and appreciated.

Sylvia van Meerten has been working at summer camps for more than a decade. She also owns and runs a business called Empower Autism (, which specializes in providing enrichment opportunities for people on the autistic spectrum and delivering seminars about autism for people off the spectrum.

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Related posts:

  1. The Importance Of Candid Feedback
  2. Preparation Points
  3. Preparing Campers — A Checklist
  4. Building Confidence
  5. From the Counselor

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