June 9, 2015
Autism Tip Sheet for 4-H Camp
Submitted by Aliah Mestrovich Seay
Top Strategies for Working with Campers with Autism at 4-H Camp
What is Autism?
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a term to refer to a group of complex disorders of brain development. Normally, there are certain characteristics that are related to being “on the spectrum” such as challenges with social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication, as well as repetitive behavior. As we take part in measures to ensure inclusion of youth on the spectrum in 4-H, it can be helpful for Extension professionals and volunteers to have some simple techniques to follow to support the youth in taking part in the 4-H experience.
1. Set expectations. Even get campers to help come up with them. Put them in writing, and post them. Refer back to them as “Our Rules” if someone does not follow them.
2. Quiet things down - Both noise and visual. If campers are getting worked up, slow down the tempo and take a break. Make use of ear plugs for overly stimulated campers.
3. Be in charge but in a friendly way. Be firm and consistent with a smile and encouragement.
4. Rules and routines – Make it clear what the rules are. Have routines spelled out for them.
5. Take a camper aside, if there is a behavior problem. State parameters and rules again.
6. Establish a safe place or safe person the youth can go to when feeling stressed.
7. Focus campers on the positives that are coming up to motivate them to stick with less preferred activities.
8. Speak clearly and simply because ideas and words can be taken literally. Sarcasm, idioms and joking are not advisable when working with campers with Autism.
9. Use literal, succinct, and direct instructions. “First, put your backpack down. Then, come to the dining hall with me.”
10. Body language and social/verbal cues may not always be understood by campers.
11. Structure is your best friend. Communicate the schedule for the day to the camper ahead of time to help them know what to expect. Highlight times of transition.
12. Provide warning of any impending change of routine, or switch of activity.
13. Ask a simple question to break speech patterns to those that talk compulsively.
14. Take breaks.
15. Repeat questions and rephrase them if the camper has trouble staying on track.
16. Speak directly to the camper, making eye contact and using their name often.
17. Make sure campers have strategies to use when overwhelmed. Information processing and sensory issues are more difficult when they are stressed.
18. Visual support – Help with redirection and give examples of what works.
19. Engage the youth by asking them about their area(s) of interest.
20. Reinforcement – Put a less preferred activity before a preferred activity (Ex: putting on sunscreen before getting to go swimming.)
*For more information on working with youth with Autism, visit www.ocali.org.