This month's blog article was featured in the July 2023 issue of our digital newsletter, Aspire Wire. To receive future Aspire Wire emails, subscribe here.

By Taylor Levesque, MA
Associate Program Manager, Child Services


This July, 100 neurodiverse children and teens will descend upon the Hale Education Trading Post for their first day of Aspire Adventure Camp 2023. Our campers join Aspire’s team of highly-trained staff to participate in 6 weeks of traditional summer camp fun: swimming, boating, archery, music, art, and more! Not only will our campers make memories of adventure, friendship, and fun, but they will also build foundational competencies that will support their successful development years into the future.

As camp folks, we believe in the transformative power of a simple summer playing games in the woods. But in what areas does this camp experience facilitate immeasurable growth and development? Research shows that participation in deliberate, high-quality camp programming can lead to both short-term change and long-term developmental outcomes. A landmark study conducted by the American Camp Association (ACA) in 2005 studied the growth of over 5,000 campers in four major skill domains: Positive Identity, Social Skills, Physical and Thinking Skills, and Positive Values and Spirituality. Campers and their caregivers were asked to complete a survey at the beginning and end of the summer camp season; results show significant increases in self-esteem, independence, leadership, friendship skills, adventure and exploration (measured as taking risks to try new things), and spirituality through summer camp participation (Burkhardt, 2005). For neurodiverse children and children with special medical needs, summer camp has been shown to increase quality of life (Cheung et al., 2005) and appreciation for one’s own unique abilities (Goodwin and Staples, 2005) while decreasing feelings of social isolation (Meltzer and Rourke, 2005). The studies summarized here make up a miniscule portion of the research that exists today; a large body of literature echoes these same sentiments: summer camp really works.

What happens after children leave the summer camp environment and are back to the reality of school, extracurricular activities, and social responsibilities? Do any of these skills generalize between contexts and last for the long-haul? Current research shows that many of the targeted skills previously-discussed are still demonstrated by children and teens up to 6 months after their summer camp experience concludes (and for many, years into the future). For example, Warner et al. (2021) assessed camp alumni identification of salient skills learned in a variety of camp settings. Participants in all-female summer camps most often valued the skills they learned in self-confidence, teamwork, and independence whereas participants in faith-based camps most highly prioritized their camp skills of empathy, compassion, and self-identity. Moreover, current studies suggest that participation in camp programming can better prepare children and teens for academic and workplace success by teaching them the skills needed to thrive there. Wilson and Sibthorp (2018) point to 4 skill areas in particular (Teamwork and Collaboration, Positive Core Self Evaluations, Work Ethic and Conscientiousness, and Leadership and Intellectual Openness), demonstrating that early exposure to these constructs through experiential learning at summer camp leads to better, more-qualified students and employees in the future.

The conclusion is clear: summer camp provides a unique, team-oriented yet independence-driven context for our next generation of children and teens to develop skills for life. In considering the best gift you can give to your child, think summer camp!

For more information about Aspire Adventure Camp, please visit our website or call 781.860.1900.


  • Burkhardt, Mark. “Youth Development Outcomes of the Camp Experience.” American Camp Association, Martinsville, IN, 2005.
  • Cheung, Ruth et al. “Quality of Life in Adolescents with Type 1 Diabetes Who Participate in Diabetes Camp.” The Journal of School Nursing: the official publication of the National Association of School Nurses 22.1 (2006): 53-8.
  • Goodwin, Donna L., and Kerri Staples. "The Meaning of Summer Camp Experiences to Youths with Disabilities". Adapted Physical Activity Quarterly 22.2 (2005): 160-178.
  • Meltzer, Lisa J. and Mary T. Rourke. “Oncology Summer Camp: Benefits of Social Comparison.” Children's Health Care 34 (2005): 305 - 314.
  • Warner, Robert P. et al. “Similarities and Differences in Summer Camps: A Mixed Methods Study of Lasting Outcomes and Program Elements.” Children and Youth Services Review, 120 (2021).
  • Wilson, Cait, and Jim Sibthorp. “Examining the Role of Summer Camps in Developing Academic and Workplace Readiness.” Journal of Youth Development, 13.1-2 (2018): 83–104.