Camping With Your Special Needs Child

Posted On: Aug 20, 2013

By Schalleen Nelson

I love to camp!  But being a single parent and taking my 6-year-old twins, France and Seb, camping is daunting.  It is easy taking France, my typically-developing child, places since I can easily reason with or distract him. But with Seb having autism and Down syndrome, this can pose a challenge for me. 

So, I asked my most adventurous babysitter if she wanted to go camping with us. YES!  Then, we moved on to the planning stage. 

Sleeping:  We have two sleeping bags that zip together, so he slept in one bag with me at night, so I knew he was warm enough.  Seb communicates with sign language, but if I’m sleeping I can’t see him signing. So I wanted him right next to me.

Waking: Seb got up at his usual 6:00 a.m. and we wanted to sleep in.  So I used technology to buy me some more zzzz’s. In went The Wiggles into the portable DVD player.  Of course he wants to eat at 6:00 a.m. too, so I kept a little container of cheerios at my side to allow him to eat.

Camp Fire:  I was concerned about Seb jumping in the fire, so an adult was either holding him securely in their lap or he was safely buckled in the stroller when the fire was lit.  He actually enjoyed watching the fire. 

Mobility:  Seb’s adaptive stroller is from Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare. It weighs at least 50 pounds, but can go over most any terrain except beach sand. 

Food:  Seb loves special crackers which he only gets on vacation, so I made sure I had graham and saltine crackers available throughout our adventure. This made it a “real” vacation for him, too.

Length:  We only went for one night to ease into the camping experience for everyone involved. 

Activity:  Seb loves to swim, so we chose a park that has a natural body of water.  I also made sure I packed a bin with Seb’s favorite books and toys, for his enjoyment at the campsite.

We chose a state park since the annual state park sticker is only $12.50 instead of $25 with your handicap placard, Sunday through Thursday. Some state parks have handicap accessible trails, campsites and cabins to rent, but you need to plan ahead since there are not many of them. 

As long as Seb is kept busy he is content, and rewarding him with an ice cream treat at the end of the day if he has nice hands and is a big boy helps as well.  Of course, making sure the adults have a positive attitude throughout helps, too. 

Enjoy your adventure!