Camping is the perfect way to immerse yourself in nature, escape the business of the city, and take in beautiful views. For some parents with kids with behavioral issues, the idea of camping can automatically bring up feelings of anxiety. Going on vacations is already a challenge for children with behavioral issues, so the idea of venturing into the wilderness can sound scary. However, there are plenty of strategies you can use to make your camping trip go smoothly for your whole family and to help your child with behavioral issues get the most out of the camping experience.
Something you should do, if you haven’t already, is see if you are able to obtain a free pass (https://www.nps.gov/planyourvisit/passes.htm) from the National Parks Service. They offer free passes for anyone with disabilities, including special needs, and covers one vehicle.
Help your child prepare for the camping trip by going over what to expect. Use visual social stories to guide them through things about camping that will be different from home, such as sleeping in tents, going on hikes, and cooking around a fire. You can also find camping supply toys that they can role play with.
Even though the idea of camping is to get out in nature, you will still want to make sure you are able to reserve a campsite that has plenty of amenities. When camping with children with behavioral issues, your site should have electrical outlets, water, and a nearby bathroom. Even though your child will likely enjoy hiking for a while and benefit from the outdoors, they will need a break from it all at some point. Having a tablet on hand, and electricity to charge it with, will give your child some calm downtime, and allow your family free time to take care of chores or cook. If you can’t find a site with electricity, you can invest in some portable battery chargers instead. The Dyrt is a great resource for researching exactly what to expect from different campsites.
Since children with behavioral issues such as autism or ADHD are at a higher risk for wandering, you should come prepared with some identification your child can wear in case the worst happens. Mabel’s Labels makes helpful wristbands that include your child’s name, your contact information, and their diagnosis. You should also have some method of locking up their tent to prevent them from wandering out of the tent at night.
The act of going on a camping trip will definitely be a significant break from the routine your child is used to. Try to bring as many familiar items and activities as you can and try your best to incorporate their favorite activities into your itinerary.
If you can, contact trusted friends and family members to coordinate the camping trip with them. Having extra helping hands and extra pairs of eyes to supervise will go a long way in keeping your child safe and ensuring everyone has a great time. Plus, the more the merrier!