With the arrival of spring, many bay area families are beginning to take advantage of the warm weather and abundance of outdoor activities and events. In addition, many families are starting to look ahead to the summer months — making plans to keep their children engaged and learning during the weeks away from school.
Family vacations, summer camps and sports leagues may be some of the kid friendly options under consideration. But for families who have a child with autism, finding the right activities to fill the summer months can be particularly challenging.
Autism is a complex developmental disability that typically appears in the first three years of life and affects a person’s ability to effectively communicate and socially interact with others. It is the fastest-growing developmental disability in the country, affecting nearly 1.5 million Americans, according to the Autism Society of America. Today, one in 88 children is born with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
For many children with an ASD, interacting socially with other children in a school or community environment can be challenging, not only for the child but for instructors, coaches and peers who may not understand autism or its behavioral manifestations. At times, what might be considered a routine or simple activity can become overwhelming for a child with autism. And changes to their regular routine — like when school lets out for the summer — can be particularly disruptive.
Thankfully, there is an excellent local resource providing Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy services to help children with an ASD and their families during the summer.
ABA is widely recognized as an effective, evidence-based treatment for autism. It is a teaching technique that involves breaking down a desired behavior into smaller, teachable parts and providing a child with positive reinforcement when she engages in the desired, appropriate behavior. ABA helps foster basic skills such as looking, listening and imitating as well as complex skills such as reading, conversing and understanding another person’s perspective. It also helps reduce behaviors that make it difficult for students to learn.
Summer Camps and Family Fun
Fortunately, there are some wonderful summer camps available for children who have autism, including:
- YMCA Camp COAST in Clearwater offers a day camp experience for children with autism, providing a comfortable, safe, fun and nurturing environment.
- The Warriors of Autism Horse Camp in Tampa offers week-long camps (with full- or partial-day programs) that provide a hands-on opportunity for children with autism to learn about horsemanship and animal husbandry.
- The Right Track Summer Camp, part of the Tampa Day School, provides a fun, confidence-building summer camp for children with various special needs, including autism, ADHD, cognitive disabilities, developmental disabilities, learning disabilities and Tourette’s syndrome.
In addition, with Autism Awareness Month happening in April, families may be interested in attending the Walk Now for Autism Speaks event April 26 at the Raymond James Stadium. This annual event helps fund autism research and raise awareness about the increasing prevalence of autism and the need for additional research funding to combat this complex disorder. It’s a great opportunity for individuals and families who have been affected by autism to enjoy a fun-filled day of activities while supporting autism research. Besides the walk itself, the event offers bounce houses, face painting, food trucks, and a resource fair of more than 40 providers of services to families.
More than 8,000 families and friends showed up to last year’s walk to help celebrate and raise autism awareness in Tampa. To register for the walk or make a donation, visit autismspeaks.org/Tampa.
Helpful Family Tips
Families planning to attend any of the above camps or events — or just take an afternoon trip to one of our city’s wonderful museums — may find it helpful to spend a little time preparing a child with ASD for the experience they are about to have. Talk about the event ahead of time, explaining what the child will do and see. Show pictures or tell a story so the child knows what to expect.
It’s also helpful to arrive early, before an event becomes overly crowded. Then keep an eye on the child’s mood. It’s always better to leave when everyone is happy and having fun, so the entire family will want to come back again, than to wait until tired or cranky moods set in.
Also, when evaluating a summer camp or day camp program, inquire about the experience level of the instructor and the ratio of students to instructors. Depending on the setting, it may be beneficial to ask whether the child’s ABA therapist can “shadow” the child and serve as an extra set of hands if needed.
Summer is on the way! Hopefully, armed with this information, Tampa-area families who have a child with autism or a related disorder will have no trouble filling the summer calendar with fun and enriching activities.
Julie Reyes is the director of the Early Autism Project Tampa Bay Clinic, volunteer chairman of the Walk Now for Autism Speaks and the mother of a child with an Autism Spectrum Disorder. To learn more about EAP’s programs in Tampa, visit www.EAPTampa.com or contact Julie at firstname.lastname@example.org or 813-362-2144.