The camp season has finally arrived! Today we share some strategies to help camp staff provide a welcoming environment for campers with sensory processing differences.
1. For campers who are sensitive to the harsh glare of the sunlight, make sure that baseball caps, visors and sunglasses are available for them to use if needed. Weighted baseball caps (used only under supervision of a licensed occupational therapist) may be a particularly useful tool for certain children.
2. Some campers with attention issues benefit from carrying an appropriately sized backpack with some items in it during transitions, to provide a little ‘weight’ (but no more than 5% of their body weight). During activities that require sitting, the camper can keep the backpack on their lap which may be calming.
3. Having a quiet decompression space available for a child who needs break from stimulation, in order to then return to the group, can be very useful for any camp setting.
4. Consider keeping spare headphones or earbuds available for when things get a little too loud – some kids are very sensitive to noise which may include group singing (even if they like it!).
5. Appreciate the possibility of built-in opportunities, such as swimming or swinging on a swingset, to provide a dose of much needed regulation to an overstimulated child. Don’t underestimate the power of water and snacks to do the same. Children who are hungry or thirsty don’t tend to listen to reason.
6. Some kids love to dive head first into a vat of shaving cream, a bin of rice and beans etc. Other kids can only handle so much “mess” before they become overstimulated, wired or tearful. Respect these differences.
7. Make sure to slow down and repeat directions, and give adequate processing time. This is especially important when any second language is being introduced in an immersion program.
8. Children on the autism spectrum often benefit from having a daily schedule or a routine that they can understand and prepare for. Just as we all need to communicate with each other about which activity is coming next, so do our campers!
9. Camp is full of opportunities to learn new motor patterns and activities for the first time. Be sensitive to the need to break down into small steps, slow down the verbal explanations, and create a model (in arts and crafts).
10. Be flexible and realistic about the amount of time a child will be able to participate in an activity. A child who cannot focus for more than 10 minutes, cannot focus for more than 10 minutes. To believe otherwise will likely ensure a meltdown. Some kids may need to stand up and move, hold a squeeze toy, etc. in order to process the same information that their peers are taking in while seated.
Jaime Bassman is an occupational therapist and the founder of AZAR: Supports for Jewish Learning. She will be spending the summer as the special needs coordinator at Ramah Day Camp outside Philadelphia.