Have you ever wondered if autism and camping go together? Last spring, my husband I took our boys on an RV camping trip, and they loved it! Honestly, we had not expected their response–the trip was one of the calmest, most peaceful family vacations we’ve ever had. I’m so glad at how much fun we had though and luckily we had all the right equipment and stuff to make things incredibly easy for us. A friend had recommended that we check out something like Camp Smart to get all our camping gear from, but I just left my husband to get everything. It’s not a waste of money anyway as the boys continue to ask to do it again! Although, I suspect they really want to see Dad get covered in poop from the backed-up plumbing like in Robin Williams’ movie, RV.
Autism and Camping
I’m not a camping expert–only a “my kids” expert. So I’ve asked, Jenny James, a freelance writer, girl scout leader, and family camping enthusiast to talk about a few special considerations when camping with autistic children. My kids loved the outdoors and I hope yours will too!
Camping With Children With ASD
By the age of eight, one in sixty-eight children has autism spectrum disorder. Children with ASD present a unique challenge to families who want to go camping, but it’s still possible to help your children explore nature with the right preparation. When camping with someone who exhibits ASD symptoms, be sure to pay careful attention to causes of discomfort. It also helps to bring safety devices, a camper, and other ways to bring the familiarity of home with you.
Take safety seriously
When camping with children with ASD, it’s more important than ever to bring proper safety devices. If you can give each child a cell phone or other GPS enabled device, this can help. One thing you want to do is keep them engaged, as various symptoms such as repeating actions or inattentiveness can be dangerous while camping. A first aid kit should also be a crucial addition, as even a stumble or cut could quickly become the focus of their attention.
Don’t forget to properly protect your devices. My boys toss them when they get frustrated. The best thing I found to protect their iPads minis were these Speck iGuys. The iGuy comes standard sized also, and they even bounce when they hit the ground. Thomas has his protected in his favorite color: Green, and Jason’s in his favorite color: Red. And of course, they fight over while they will use! But we’ve been using them on all our iPads for the boys for a few years now and none of the iPads have broken. The screen we protect with tempered glass screen protectors. The amazon link is attached because I will not buy these at the cellphone stores–much cheaper on Amazon.
Consider what unique symptoms they exhibit
For some children with ASD, relatively few parts of a camping experience may cause them discomfort. For some though, the rustling of trees, chirping of birds, and other seemingly forgettable parts of the camping experience can become a sensory overload for them, especially if it’s their first ever outdoor adventure. Some children also have a particular attachment to an object at home when they sleep. Consider this when you go camping, and if possible, bring a camper to create a quieter home-like space in case the noise of the outdoors is too much.
Bring whatever you they need to sleep with you. I found that my boy’s sleep a lot better when we were on the road camping–weird, I know–but they did. I still made sure I had the three things that help them sleep at home with us.
Establish signals and communication before you go
When camping with children with ASD, create a system to effectively gather their attention and communicate back and forth about important details. Consider creating a small camping guidebook with essential rules if they prefer reading or writing to speaking to you. Also bring a whistle or other noisy way to signal them in an emergency that may get their attention, as long as it is not a trigger itself.
Children with ASD should not be excluded from enjoying a camping experience. However, you have to take extra precautions when preparing. Consider what symptoms they individually exhibit and whether noises, certain sights, or absence of familiar items are likely to cause them discomfort. Bring basic safety devices, a way to track and communicate with your camper, and consider a camper to include a familiar space for them in case the experience is too much.
Share your experiences
Have you tried camping with the kids? How did they like it? Any other advise to offer families who may be hesitate to camp with their child with autism? Please share in the comments, I’d love to hear from you?