Camping With A Special Needs Child

Camping With A Special Needs Child

Camping with your children can bring back wonderful childhood memories and is a great bonding experience for your family. However if you have a child with special needs, planning and going away from home can become frustrating, overwhelming, and even scary for him. Below are some tips and suggestions that may help him make a smoother transition and make the experience a enjoyable one for all. Just follow our three "P's", which are:


So you have decided on a camping trip for your family’s next adventure. New and unfamiliar places can be especially scary and overwhelming for a child with special needs. Include her in the planning process by showing her the website or brochure with pictures of your selected location. Explain some of the fun activities (fishing, boating, swimming, etc.) available and let her choose a few that she will be able to participate in.

Try choosing a campground that is close to home, so that she won’t become overwhelmed by the car ride before you even get to the destination. Make sure you build excitement by creating a countdown calendar or by reading books related to camping. The more she knows about what to expect ahead of time, the more likely she will enjoy the experience.


Do a few practice runs before the actual event. Pull out the tent and sleeping bags and try “camping” in the living room. This introduces your child to some of the equipment and experiences while still being in the safety of the house. Once he has successfully mastered the living room camp, try moving into the backyard.
By backyard camping you are providing him with all of the excitement and experiences of “regular” camping, but you are still within sight of your home. Do fun camping activities such as roasting marshmallows or looking for constellations to not only introduce him to such activities, but to make it as authentic as possible. This will be a good “test run” for your big adventure and keep in mind it may take several attempts before he is comfortable.


“Be prepared for anything and everything” is a good motto to have when you are packing for your camping trip with the family. Familiarity is often very important to children with special needs, so make sure you bring any important objects she may have (stuffed animal, special blanket or pillow, etc.) with you. Make sure you pack simple activities and games for those moments of downtime and in case of an unexpected downpour. Paper and crayons, board games, and small toys are great time fillers as well as familiar objects she may find comforting if she starts to get overwhelmed.

Make sure you bring a camera to catch all those special memories and consider getting her one of her own (sturdy and waterproof as musts for any child photographer). Once you get home she can make a scrapbook or journal of her camping adventures. It is a great way to have her reflect on her thoughts and feelings about this grand adventure she just experienced.

Keep in mind that things will probably turn out different than expected no matter how much you prepare. It is also important to not become devastated if your trip is a failure or disappointment and it by no means, means that you shouldn’t try again in the future. The most important thing to remember is that camping is about having fun, making memories and spending time as a family, not about perfection.

Camping With A Special Needs Child
Shandy Marso, Contributor

Carolina Pediatric Therapy © July 2014

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