Camping with an Autistic Child: 4 Ways to Handle and Prevent Sensory Overload

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There are many challenges to raising children. This is especially true for children who are on the autistic spectrum, especially during the early years when they are still learning how to cope with sensory over-stimulation. However, this doesn’t mean that the family has to miss out on your favorite activities, even if those activities take place outdoors. While family outings such as a camping trip may take some extra effort and planning, it can be done in such a way that the entire family can enjoy the outdoors together.

Camping with an autistic child - 4 Ways to Handle and Prevent Sensory Overload

Predictability is Key

It is very important to talk with your child well ahead of the time that you will be going on your camping trip. Autistic children need routine and can become agitated when their routine is disrupted. By talking with your child ahead of time and having them help with some of the planning, they will be more mentally and emotionally prepared to enjoy the trip. The uncertainty is often what overwhelms them in a new situation. They thrive on predictability and it is essential that they are well aware of an upcoming change to their schedule so that they aren’t caught off guard and overwhelmed.


Make a Sensory Go-Bag

Picking out a special backpack that is specifically for your child is vital. You will want to fill the bag with some of your child’s creature comforts of home that can give them a feeling of stability and promote a safe feeling for them. This can include smooth rocks, fidget toys, a favorite stuffed animal, or other favorite objects that they can carry with them. You will also want to include items that can help them to quiet the outside world during periods of over stimulation. These may include items such as sunglasses, noise canceling earmuffs, an MP3 player with headphones, a lap-pad or weighted blanket, and or even favorite coats or jackets. Don’t forget to bring this backpack with you when hiking or trips away from the campsite.

Create a Space for Sensory Time-Outs

A child that has autism needs to have space where they can regroup when they are experiencing sensory overload. Not having a space that is quiet and secure during times of over-stimulation can lead to an agitated state of being and even a meltdown. While this may seem like a task that is difficult to do while camping outdoors, it is not impossible. Camper trailers are an ideal way to offer your child that needed space during times of anxiety. While a tent may block out the visual stimuli, a camper can provide them with the benefit of quiet and complete isolation from the bugs and smells outside during times of stress. Let your child set up their own space in the camper with blankets and other things to help them remove themselves physically from the stimulus outside, and even just the knowledge that the space is there for them can help them face extended periods of high stimulus for longer.

Consider the Location

When going camping, you can make it easier for your child to enjoy the trip by choosing the right type of location. Avoid places that receive heavy traffic as a tourist location, as the isolation from society can work in your child’s favor when preventing anxiety. You can also look online at ratings to know if an area is heavy with mosquitoes or other insects that can aggravate your child’s senses and find places with fast-moving rivers for calming background noise. Another important thing to consider is to have a campfire ready site, whether you are cooking outdoors or not. The flickering flames of a campfire can provide a natural form of focus and promote a relaxed state in a child who is experiencing sensory overload.

With the proper planning, both you and your child can enjoy your time together camping outdoors. You know your child better than anyone else. Applying your knowledge with the steps listed above can go a long way with your child when making the transition of home routine to camping routine.

What are your camping trip go to hacks ?


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Author: Meghan Belnap

Meghan Belnap is a freelance writer who enjoys spending time with her family. She loves being in the outdoors and exploring new opportunities whenever they arise. Meghan finds happiness in researching new topics that help to expand her horizons. You can often find her buried in a good book or out looking for an adventure.

3 Replies to “Camping with an Autistic Child: 4 Ways to Handle and Prevent Sensory Overload

  1. My kids don’t have autism but they are all sensory seekers so going away we have to do a lot of this prep. Making sure they have a quiet space is key.

  2. I have no experience with this at all but am aware that many parents. I really like the tips about making a sensory go-bag. I feel like many young children and their parents would appreciate this. Being away from home can cause feelings of anxiety for some children so having a bag that contains their favorite thing is a great way to bring back a sense of familiarity and peace to them!

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