Summer camp, oh my! Swimming races, insect juice, and letters to loved ones back home were all highlights of our trip. No child isn’t going to benefit from the structured and pleasant freedom camps.
A child with a disability is no exception. But parents and children alike may find the concept difficult to grasp – What safeguards do you have in place to ensure that your child is receiving the attention they require? Will your child be able to participate to the fullest extent possible? What about the rest of the children? Is it possible for your youngster to develop social skills and find friends? Will they be able to relate to your child’s unique situation?
Many camp options are available for children with special needs. Camps for children with special needs can range from highly specialized to more traditional.
Camps of Different Types
Special needs children have the same options as normal children when it comes to summer camp. All camps must comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in order to accommodate children with special needs, such as installing wheelchair ramps. Camps that couldn’t previously accommodate children with special needs may now be an option for you to consider.
Inclusionary (or mainstream) camps integrate children with special needs into their regular-needs groups, as the name implies. These camps may have begun by serving merely a broad range of children, but as the needs of the families they serve have evolved, so have the camps.
Some camps are specifically developed for children with special needs, such as those with learning or behavioral difficulties, those with certain chronic illnesses, and those with physical or mental impairments. Many schools accept children with a wide range of disabilities, while others only accept children with a few specific issues (such as camps for kids with diabetes, cancer, speech or hearing problem, cystic fibrosis, cerebral palsy, epilepsy, etc.).
Even more, alternatives will be available in terms of the length of time, the philosophy, and the pricing. For-profit and not-for-profit camp options abound. Religious and national organization camp options are also available, as are private camp options. Day camps, weekend camps, and sleepover programs all welcome children and run throughout the summer months.
Camp has a lot of advantages.
Kids with special needs can benefit from summer camp in the same ways as any other child.
- boosted self-esteem and self-reliance from physical activity and exercise the chance to socialize with other children and make friends through robust adult role modeling
- providing parents with a much-needed respite
Camp provides a great deal of independence for its campers. For example, a week at a mainstream overnight camp can give special-needs children with the opportunity to be away from home, doctors, and physical therapists. To improve their problem-solving and communication abilities, they’ll learn to seek help from others more frequently.
The physical benefits of greater activity can also be reaped while at camp. In contrast to their peers, many children with impairments or long-term diseases are kept sedentary and deprived of the same opportunities for physical activity. This results in them missing out on the positive effects that physical activity has on their social and health.
Swimming, wheelchair racing, dancing, tennis, and golf are just some of the activities available at camp. These hobbies give both health benefits (such as improved cardiovascular fitness) and leisure activities that can be enjoyed long into adulthood.
These physical activities are often paired with educational surroundings at summer camps, allowing children with behavioral or learning difficulties to learn or re-learn essential skills.
Finding a Camp to Stay At
The first step in finding a camp is to establish a list of the basics you’re searching for: the goals you want to achieve, the importance you place on caretaking, and other considerations (such as cost).
After that, think about which kind of camp would be most appropriate for your child:
- Camps promoting inclusiveness
- Camps for children with a particular type of disability
- Camps for children with a wide range of disabilities
Ask yourself if your child has ever spent time away from home, even if it was only for a weekend. If so, how did that experience assist them prepare for camp? The type of camp your child is ready for will depend on whether or not they are able to spend the night away from home.
Making camp selection a collaborative process with children will help them get the most out of their time at the final destination. As a result, you should inquire about your child:
- What are your goals for attending summer camp?
- Do you have a preference?
- Which would you prefer: a coed camp or just hanging out with people of your own gender?
- Is there anything you’ve always wanted to do but haven’t done yet?
- Would you like to attend a camp with children who have special needs or one without?
- Are you used to being apart from your family and friends? If this is the case, how long do you anticipate it to last?
- Is someone you know who went to a summer camp this year on the list?
- Do you want to go camping with somebody in particular? What kind of camp are they going to be attending this summer?
If you and your child find that the notion of summer camp is too much for both of you, consider starting with weekend sessions at a special-needs camp.
Regardless of what type of camp you’re interested in, you should do your homework. Information can be found in a variety of locations, such as the American Camping Association (ACA), which has a comprehensive web directory of special-needs camps. Parents who are considering sending their children to camp will find a wealth of information on the website.
You can also inquire about nearby camps by contacting local chapters of well-known disability organizations. You’ll need to start looking for a camp in January or February if you want to go to one of these.
Special-needs camp fairs may be held in your region. Make sure to peruse your local newspaper and parenting magazines for event listings. You’ll need to start looking for a camp in January or February if you want to go to one of these.
Of course, you’ll need to figure out how much money you have to work with. High-end special-needs camps can cost thousands of dollars for multiple-week sessions, with prices wildly varying.
Scholarship applications are best submitted between December and March because, by April or May, much of the available funding has already been used. It is possible to make contact with philanthropic and fraternal groups (such as the Lions, Kiwanis, and Rotary Clubs, which finance camps for children with special needs). You may also be eligible for state financial aid based on the specific unique needs of your child. There are also religious and ethnic charities that offer scholarships.
Before you apply for a camp scholarship, you should look for one that will accept your child. Most of these organizations award scholarships to the camps themselves rather than to the parents themselves.
What to Ponder
So, how do you pick the right camp for your child out of all the options? Among other things, you’ll need to know the answers to the following questions:
- What is the duration of the training sessions?
- What’s the price tag on all of this? Is there a chance to get a scholarship?
- It’s either coed, all-female, or all-male.
- The average age of the campers is between 12 and 15.
- What’s the address? Just how far away is it?
- Are there enough counselors to go around?
- How old are the majority of counselors?
- What is the level of training and experience of the counselors?
- What is the rate of turnover? Do students and teachers return?
- Whose philosophy is the camp based on? Are you sure it’s suitable for your child’s future aspirations?
- What kind of transportation system does the center have?
- What is the camp’s layout like if physical accessibility is a concern? Is there a way for the camp to accommodate wheelchairs or crutches?
- Is the camp able to accommodate your child’s dietary needs? Can you feed your child if you’re unable to do so?
- Do any of the employees have previous experience working with children with disabilities?
- Is the camp staff prepared to deal with your child’s particular set of issues if they arise?
- What kind of first-aid training do the counselors have?
- During what hours are the infirmary’s doctors and nurses available? Any medication your child requires can be administered by professionals if necessary.
- Complications can occur when there is a medical problem with your child. What should you do? Are there any hospitals nearby? Is that facility equipped to handle your child’s unique medical needs?
The best way to learn more about the camp is to go there, but you may also gather the information you need by calling, emailing, perusing brochures, or looking at the website. This is where you may meet the director, tour the cabins, and get a clear image of where your child will be.
You and your child should go camping together if you want to get a good sense of what it’s like. You should take extra precautions if your child is attending a conventional (inclusionary or mainstream) camp for the first time. The camp’s staff will be able to monitor how they respond to your suggestions for improvement.
Interview the camp director and some of the staff to get a sense of the place if you can’t visit. Ask them to describe the layout and the activities your child will participate in. To get a sense of what other families’ experiences have been like, ask to talk with parents whose children have attended the school. You may get a lot of information about a camp by talking to other campers.
Remember that no matter what your child’s specific needs are, there is undoubtedly a camp out there that can accommodate them. You, your child, and the camp director may all work together to ensure that your camper has a great summer.