Nothing brings a family closer together than a fun vacation, especially one in the outdoors enjoying nature and getting away from the routine of home, school, and work. Our son was barely 3 years old and was diagnosed with autism right before our first outdoor camping experience. We were still in denial and it was difficult for us to admit that he had autism. One of our close friends organized a multi-family outdoor overnight camping at Uvas campground. We had a lot of concerns. Would this turn out to be an ordeal? What if things don’t work out? We were worried about a lot of things but to name a few:
- Our son didn’t have any language and couldn’t communicate with other people
- He could wander away from the tent
- He could get uncomfortable at night and start crying for apparently no reason thereby keeping everyone else awake (family as well as neighbors)
- Very fussy eater, wouldn’t try anything cooked at the camp
- Would require constant undivided attention at all times
Basically everything that could possibly go wrong was coming to mind. After much deliberation, even though we were worried, we decided to try this experience for him because until we did, we would never know.
Planning For the Trip: Since we didn’t have any prior experience, we just consulted our friend about the stuff we needed for camping. We collected all the camping items (tents, chairs, airbeds, clothes, disposable etc). We made sure to include my son’s favorite food items, toys and music player to address his need. Also we knew that the camping ground had a reservoir nearby and our son loves water – so we felt hopeful that he would have fun.
Deciding on the Place: Our friend told us about the amenities that were available at this campground. It had clean bathrooms with shower facilities, picnic tables, lockers to put food, and had gotten good reviews.
Sensory Issues: We took along his favorite sensory toys -the ones with sounds bright flashing lights. He was also fond of music and it helped him to calm down during his crying episodes. Even today, the music does wonders to calm him down.
Food Issues: He didn’t have too many food choices, so we made sure we included most of the food items he would eat. We cooked at the campground and he was happy to eat the food items we brought for him. One thing that is worth mentioning is that he was very fond of drinking Soda (Coke cans) so we watched him very closely to avoid drinking other people’s drinks.
Sleep Issues: Fortunately, our son was a sound sleeper at night (it has changed over time now). We worried that he would not like the bed or the sounds at night would keep him up. When we put our airbeds in the tent, he was skeptical at first but at same time very curious. He enjoyed jumping on the airbed and was able to sleep through the night without any major issues.
Change in routine: We didn’t see any major impact on his behavior due to the change in routine. He was a bit restless during the daytime because of the hot weather. It gets hot during the month of June at this campground. Once the evening set in, we took him to the bank of the reservoir and let him play with the water.
Checking for Readiness: Since each child develops at his/her own pace, it is impossible to pinpoint the precise age when one is ready to attend an overnight camp. Since you know your child best, your own intuition around your child’s demeanor and capabilities is likely your best guide.
Ask the following questions to yourself to check the camp-readiness of your child:
• Has my child successfully stayed overnight away from home while family members are with him?
• How does he cope with new experiences? Does he require preparation (mental/physical) to help his coping ability?
• Does any camping activity pose any challenge or threat to your child that can cause him stress? Is he afraid of the dark?
• Does he have any medical condition that requires immediate attention?
Overall we enjoyed our first camping experience – it was fun to get away from our routine and take a break. It was a bit hectic for my wife as we had a little daughter who needed her attention most of the time. Sometimes a little disruption from normal routine can help release stress but it all depends on the family ‘s unique needs and how they take this experience. It opened up one more option for us – a way to have fun as a family. We have camped three more times after that and all of them have brought something new to the experience, in a good way.
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