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Making Summer Camp Accessible to Kids with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Donor Story

Making Summer Camp Accessible to Kids with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Thanks to funding from CampLauncher, Mass General for Children’s Aspire Adventure Camp can offer an experience of a lifetime to all children with autism spectrum disorder, regardless of their families’ ability to pay.

Marie Walton
July 12, 2023

At Aspire Adventure Camp, children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have the chance to attend a traditional summer camp. The difference here, though, is that Aspire — the Mass General for Children (MGfC) program that hosts the camp — considers all of the obstacles children with ASD may face in a traditional camp environment and works to eliminate those obstacles to help meet children’s needs.

Campers ranging in age from five to 13-years-old participate in a weekly itinerary packed with typical summer camp activities like swimming, music, fishing, boating and arts and crafts. Like all Aspire programming, participants receive direct instruction and in-the-moment social coaching to support their skill-building in self-awareness, stress management and social competency.

The Importance of Experiencing Success

Scott McLeod, PhD, Executive Director of MGfC’s Aspire program, explains that mainstream summer camp often doesn’t work for children with ASD. “They may struggle to make friends and form connections,” he says. “They may struggle with the routine changes and sensory challenges of camp and may experience a lack of social success — which is an important part of the summer camp experience.”

Aspire Adventure Camp staff create a safe and supportive environment where campers can learn, grow, make social connections, express themselves, feel successful and have fun. Resources are designed specifically for children with ASD, including high staff-to-camper ratios and staff training geared toward meeting campers’ diverse needs. Staff employ a practice called “social matching,” where campers are matched with peers with shared interests, with whom they have the highest chance of social success.

Removing Obstacles

Cost is often a prohibiting factor for families who want to enroll their children in Aspire Adventure Camp. Camp is not covered by medical insurance, and “it’s expensive to maintain the high staff-to-camper ratio, especially when we hire staff with ASD knowledge and experience,” explains Joanne Morelock, Project Manager at Aspire.

But thanks to partners like CampLauncher, a nonprofit organization that provides “camperships” to help kids with ASD attend summer camps designed to meet their needs, Aspire is able to ease the financial burden on families and make camp accessible to children who may otherwise not have had the experience.

“It’s really important to us that with Aspire, we’re able to support campers in most need and help families find the right place for their kids,” says Marissa Siegman, Director of Development at CampLauncher. “We want to remove financial need as a barrier to accessing this incredible resource for as many kids as we can.”

Gaining Confidence

Six-year-old Jane* first came to Aspire Adventure Camp three years ago on a CampLauncher campership. A shy child with low self-confidence, she and her family lived in Boston and had never ventured out of the city. But at Aspire Adventure Camp, staff made her feel comforted and understood, and she was able to enjoy the experience to the fullest each day. Camp quickly became a safe space for Jane to make friends and enjoy all the classic summer camp fun. She especially loved to go swimming and boating in the pond.

She has been to camp each year since and has made many new friends — connections that now extend beyond Aspire programs, with the kids attending each other’s birthday parties and spending time together long after the summer ends. Thanks to CampLauncher’s financial support, Jane and many other neurodiverse kids’ participation in Aspire Adventure Camp will continue to be a positive, fulfilling experience throughout their childhood.

“It is vital that we partner with organizations like CampLauncher so that the reach of our programming isn’t limited to families who can afford it,” says Dr. McLeod. “All neurodiverse kids deserve access to spaces that meet their unique needs, regardless of financial status.”

If you would like to learn more about Aspire Adventure Camp, please contact us.