Autistic Kids Go Camping

Special Parents for Special Kids

Even though the doors didn’t open until 9AM, everyone knew that the earlier you got in line, the better your chances were. There were tents in the front, people sleeping in chairs, sleeping bags or on their feet. Coffee and donuts were available at 7. We talked about our past experiences, the likelihood of being turned away as in previous years, and if the wait is even worth it. No, we weren’t waiting to be the first to get the latest iPhone upgrade.

We were signing our autistic children up to go camping at Camp Arroyo in Livermore, California. The application was submitted online, but parents had to register their children in person at the Livermore Library on a first-come-first-serve system. Some parents, including myself and my new friends, got up before the crack of dawn to arrive 4 to 5 hours before registration began.

Chandrajith, Amir and Malika

I had the privilege of meeting three special people, Chandrajith, Amir, and Malika, at 5 AM, enjoying the changing weather pattern around us. We stood in line for four hours in the dark in 50-degree weather. Then it drizzled. As day broke, the temperature went down six degrees. By 8:30 the sun was bright. Just before we entered the building, the skies turned black.

The camp is highly popular and there is always a long line. There are two 4-night summer sessions and one 3-night fall session. Each session allows only 45 children.

Other parents and their families camped overnight.

We spent the time talking about our children and their special needs. We also shared advice regarding the problems we face as parents of autistic children:

  • Battling school districts for adequate education and safe environment
  • Finding appropriate resources and therapies that fit into our children’s schedules.
  • Unique issues such as diet, one-on-one aides, and medical needs
  • Extra-curricular activities such as sports and music

Why do parents go through all this hassle to send their kids to Camp Arroyo?

It is one of the few places where children with emotional and physical challenges can have a full sleepaway camping experience in a safe environment. No one is singled out as “different.” Trained volunteer counselors provide one-on-one attention to campers if necessary.

There are many activities that special needs children would not experience any place else. Here are some of the activities that my daughter participated in last year.


By 10 AM, everyone was registered. My friends and I all got spots for our children during the fall session. After exchanging contact information, we said goodbye until we meet again when we drop our kids off for their fun-filled camping session.