Partnering With Parents

therapists expose campers to music and movement activities; yoga is offered so campers can challenge their flexibility, balance, and gross motor skills; exotic zoos introduce campers to kangaroos and lizards—all within the safety of the camp. Then there are the sensory afternoons, when the camp turns into a shaving-cream haven for those who want to cover themselves with the foamy, tickly cream and enjoy the multi-sensory experience while playing outside among sprinklers, hoses, and water guns.

There are opportunities for campers outside the camp as well. Wild Wednesdays are reserved for trips to water parks, zoos, and amusement parks to enhance campers’ abilities to deal with new situations and large crowds. Visiting local restaurants each week and practicing social skills, as well as going to a sensory-friendly movie, provide campers with experiences like the rest of the population enjoy. Campers even attend a professional baseball game in Toronto, wearing jerseys to cheer on the home team!

As a “fringe benefit,” the excursions serve as an educational tool for the general public. While participating in community activities, many people engage us in conversation, and are supportive of the program and the services. With so many people being diagnosed with an ASD, everyone knows someone who has autism, so the need for this type of camp has never been greater.

A Family Victory

Of course, this type of camp is not without its challenges; some campers display disruptive behaviors, seizure disorders, or non-verbal communicators, but the victories are huge. Seeing a camper being able to communicate for the first time with the use of an iPad, or another camper attempting to climb a rock wall, or a family feeling like “just another family and not a family with a child with autism” makes the program worth it.

And the benefits can be found in the home environments as well. Families report fewer challenging behaviors because camp keeps the children busy each day. In engaging them in a significant number of physical activities and sensory exposures, families report their loved one sleeps well each night after being at camp and playing in the pool for hours. This is important respite time for families, many of whom would not be able to work during the summer if this program didn’t exist. Inevitably, some staff members become part of the larger autism family since they are hired by families to work with the children year-round.

The families are our biggest supporters. Without their expertise, we would not be able to do what we do. So please develop special relationship with the families to ensure campers are fully supported, no matter the behavior or need. In doing so, it will make the camping community so much stronger.

Sarah Shaw Dougald is the chapter manager for Autism Ontario Kids Camp & Adult Summer Program for the Autism Ontario York Region chapter. Reach her at

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One comment on “Partnering With Parents

  1. Sue Walters on said:

    Great article – thanks for showcasing our wonderful camp. My kids have been part of AOK Camp AOA since 2007 and it makes our summer!

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