Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

The Impact of Family Autism Camp on Families and Individuals with ASD

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

The Impact of Family Autism Camp on Families and Individuals with ASD

Article excerpt

Families of children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) make up an increasing portion of the American population (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2014). As ASD rates increase, so does the need for informational and emotional supports to families. Karst and Van Hecke (2012) found families of children with ASD experienced lower levels of parental self-efficacy, increased stress, and generally reported a decreased sense of emotional well being and physical health. One area that proved relatively healthy was in the family's relationship with the family member with ASD. For most families, the impact of ASD on caregivers and other family members seemed related to the type and quality of informational and emotional support available.

Typical mechanisms utilized to provide informational and emotional supports to families have been support groups, day-long workshops, special evening programs, or sometimes multi-day events such as conferences (SD Parent Connection, 2013). However, many of these programs are for parents only and do not always include a childcare or respite care option (for other children in the family or for the individual with ASD). Families sometimes struggle to participate in such events because of a lack of childcare and/or respite care. Alternatively, individuals with ASD often have opportunities to participate in special programs or camps developed especially to meet their needs, but it is usually without the participation of other members of the family (Neff, 2009).

The Value of a Family Camp

Summer camps for children and adults with disabilities have been around since the late 1960s (Neff, 2009). However, very few opportunities exist for individuals with disabilities and their families to participate in the summer camp experience. Camp is defined as a residential experience for individuals and/or their families that includes activities and programming developed for the benefit of its participants. Camp Yofi, located in rural, north Georgia, is one of the few family Autism camp models that provide an overnight camping experience for individuals with ASD and their families (Kabot, 2009). Drawing families from as far away as California, Camp Yofi provides families with all the activities that one would expect at a summer camp, but with an emphasis on the needs of individuals with ASD. Camp Yofi, like other similarly focused camps, takes into consideration the special needs of the individuals who might participate and provide programming specializing in serving campers with disabilities or exclusively serve campers with disabilities.

A search of the American Camp Association (2015) website, an accrediting association for camps and camp professionals including recreational, rehabilitative, and disability-related, showed that approximately 10 percent of its accredited camps had programs that specialized in including both the individual with a disability and his or her family. States like South Dakota had no affiliated camps in the state. Independent, grassroots efforts (like the Dakota Black Goose Camp) appeared to be the only opportunities available to families.

Although there has been a resurgence in the popularity of family camps as represented in mainstream media contexts such as books, newspapers, and television news reports; and even in academic journals relevant to the field of recreation (Garst, Baughman, Franz, & Seidel, 2013), few mention options for families who have a member with a disability. Furthermore, the value of the family camp experience for families of individuals with disabilities has not been widely published in the academic context in any discipline. Of the known articles, only the Day and Kleinschmidt (2005) article attempted to determine the efficacy of the family camp experience.

Day and Kleinschmidt (2005) looked to determine the efficacy of the family camp experience for families who had children with visual impairments and participated in the Utah Schools for the Deaf and the Blind Parent Infant Program. …

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