Autism: Enjoying camping adventures
Despite many COVID-19 restrictions in Ontario, according to the Ontario Government, campsites are open this summer. Since there is still time left as we head into August, I review ways to make camping fun and easier for yourself and your autistic loved one. I also look at challenges that may happen during your visit and how you can ease or prevent them.
Pitching a tent may not be easy.
Since motor planning can be hard for people on the spectrum, know that pitching a tent might not come naturally. According to Autism Parenting Magazine, children with autism often have difficulties with motor skills because brain wiring affects motor coordination, learning and sensorimotor integration. In addition, The Owl House says that motor planning has three steps: Ideation, planning and execution.
If you apply the above factors to pitching a tent, some people on the spectrum may either do the task slower or need extra help to proceed with the activity.
When I was younger, I would often help my mother pitch a tent, but I couldn't process steps by myself, such as organizing the poles or correctly placing the tent with the poles.
For future campers, I would recommend writing down steps and materials about pitching tents for the person to review and rehearse.
Can campfires be challenging?
I didn't have major issues sitting by campfires back in the day, but I am still reluctant to light a campfire even now. Given sensory and motor coordination problems, I consider myself more sensitive to fire than the average person. I fear that I may accidentally burn myself. One trigger event that heightened this problem was that I accidentally touched the burnt end of a sparkler when I was eight during Canada Day. Despite these issues, I recognize that I need to expose myself to fire more if I want to be more comfortable around it, even though I have yet to do that.
Also, if a person may not understand the danger of being too close to a fire, Side by Side Therapy recommends reviewing fire safety with them. The better a person understands fire safety, the safer it will be to sit near a campfire.
Be aware of weather conditions.
As people with autism can struggle with change, if there are forecasted weather conditions you feel may ensure you either cancel your trip or leave early, let the person know in advance that this may happen.
Also, if the person has problems with heat intolerance, pay close attention to forecasted temperatures.
I am a summer weather lover. Therefore, heat is not a problem for me. However, this is not the same for all autistic people. My family has, however, left camping trips early because of rain and thunderstorms. Thunderstorms are scary enough for me when I'm inside a sturdy building, let alone in a tent or trailer near hundreds of trees.
Bring activities you know they'll enjoy.
People with autism often have special interests. To limit obsessions while making sure they have a good time, bring or encourage them to bring a mix of activities you would consider "special interests" or "mild interests".
My parents would do the above with me when I was younger. For example, I enjoyed board games, but I was never extremely into them. Therefore, my parents would encourage me to play them during our camping trips. On the other hand, they would let me pack video games I sometimes fixated on, just as long as I didn't spend the entire trip playing them.
If the person is stressed, take them on a walk.
Like in any situation, there may be things during camping that could distress an autistic person. If the person on the spectrum, for example, gives you signs they are socially anxious around their friends or family or does something socially unacceptable; you can take them on a walk to talk things out and calm them down.
Often whenever I went camping, just simply checking around the park was enough to clear my mind if I got in a fight with my brother, for example.
Campgrounds I have attended within the past two decades that I would recommend include:
Sherkston Shores, and
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