kids at summer camp

Summer camp is a rite of passage that all children should be able to experience. And these days summer camp providers have really stepped up their services for children with autism and other special needs. This means that as a parent you can have confidence that your child is being cared for within a supportive and accommodating environment, allowing them to develop their social skills and build their confidence.

That’s why we’ve put together this quick guide to choosing a summer camp for autism in NJ, to help you find a camp that’s right for your child.

What are your options?

You have two broad choices when choosing autism summer camps in NJ (or in any state):

  • Specialized (Inclusive) programs: These summer camps integrate typically developing children with children with autism and other special needs. The programs are designed to provide support and accessibility for every child, while maintaining a regular activity schedule.
  • Exclusive programs: These summer camps are designed specifically for children with autism and other special needs. They tend to place an emphasis on socialization and other skills building, which can help to prevent regression during the summer break.

These options enable you to choose an environment that is going to best support your child and their development. Here are a few things to consider when making your choice:

  • Will your child benefit from the social interactions and activities offered in an inclusive program?
  • Will your child feel comfortable and confident mixing with children of all abilities?
  • Are you concerned about regression during the summer break if there’s a big interruption to your child’s routine? 

How to start your autism summer camp search?

There are a number of resources you can use to find accredited autism summer camps in NJ, these include:

  • The American Camp Association provides a national camp search. You can search by state and specify that you’re looking for a camp that serves children with autism. It also breaks down your options by inclusive and exclusive programs. 
  • Autism New Jersey is a non-profit agency providing support to individuals with autism and their families. Their autism services database provides a list of New Jersey summer camps with autism programs.

How to choose a Summer camp that’s right for your child? 

Research is the key to choosing a camp that’s right for your child. Once you’ve searched the online databases, make a shortlist based on your criteria. Once you’ve narrowed down your options to just a handful you can then attend camp open days. This gives you the chance to tour the facilities and speak to staff about the programs and provisions they have in place. 

A few things to ask during these visits include:

  • What is the staff to camper ratio?
  • What training have staff members received (both general and autism specific)?
  • How are behavioral issues managed?
  • What is the camp‘s experience with children with disabilities?

The American Camp Association also has some useful resources on their website. This includes a guide to what camps have to do in order to accommodate children of all abilities and resources to help children with special needs

What about an Extended School Year (ESY) Program?

Extended School Year (ESY) programs are often brought up when discussing summer camps for autism. This is because ESY programs can often be delivered as part of a child’s summer camp program.

ESY services are provided by local school districts during long breaks to prevent a substantial regression in skills. You may have already discussed this during the annual IEP review. But if you haven’t and wish to discuss this, you should speak to your child’s school as soon as possible. Here’s a useful article by Autism New Jersey on determining eligibility for ESY programs. 

Are you looking for financial assistance?  

If you’re looking for financial assistance to cover some or all of the costs, then there are a number of options available.

  • CARE Family Grant Program provides financial support to people with autism and their families, including summer camp costs. Grants are open to anyone in the US with a household income below $75k per annum.
  • ASDF Social Skills Camp accept applications from families who have found an accredited summer camp for their child with autism and are in need of financial support.
  • VARGHESE SUMMERSETT provide scholarship programs throughout the year for children with developmental needs, which can be used to offset the cost of summer camp.  

Or if you’re eligible for services through the New Jersey Children’s System of Care (CSOC), you can apply for funding for summer camp services. More information is available on the summer camp page on their website.   

And finally

Every child is unique, as is the care and support that each child requires. This guide to autism summer camps in NJ provides general advice on how to find a program for your child. But as a parent, you’ll know what’s best for your child and which summer camp environment will help them grow and prosper the most. 

For more autism resources for families in New Jersey, visit our blog directory. Or if you would like to find out more about the ABA services we provide to children with autism, you can get in touch here.

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