Do you send your special needs child to a summer camp? I have sent my son to a camp here in Arizona called Civitan for a week every summer. They have one-on-one camp assistants as needed which is quite a blessing! It has been an awesome experience for him and a bit of a break for me. Win/win! There are other special needs camps in Arizona and all over the US. Here are some other Arizona camps. http://www.arizonaedventures.com/things-to-see-do/arizona-top-ten/top-ten-special-needs-camps/ If you don’t live in Arizona I am sure you can google special needs camps or ask around 😉
Ah, summer camp. The mosquitoes, the swim races, the friendships, the bug juice, the postcards home. What child wouldn’t benefit from the fun and structured freedom camps provide?
Kids with special needs are no exception. But the idea can seem challenging to parents and kids alike — how can you be sure that your child will get the attention he or she needs? Will your child be able to participate fully? What about the other kids? Will your child make friends? Will they understand your child’s special needs?
The good news is that there are many camp choices for kids with special needs. From highly specialized camps to regular camps that accommodate kids with special needs, options abound.
Different Types of Camps
When it comes to camps, kids with special needs have as many choices as other kids. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires all camps to make reasonable accommodations (such as the installation of wheelchair-accessible ramps) so that kids with special needs can attend. So, camps that previously couldn’t host kids with special needs might now be on your list of possibilities.
Inclusionary (or mainstream) camps do just what their name implies: They include kids with special needs in their groups of children with regular needs. These camps may have started out serving only a general population of kids, but they’ve gradually changed as the needs of the families they serve have changed.
Some camps are designed just for kids with special needs, including kids who have learning or behavioral problems, those with specific chronic illnesses, and kids with mental or physical impairments. Many accept kids with a variety of needs, but some only accept kids with specific problems (such as camps for kids with diabetes, cancer, speech or hearing impairment, cystic fibrosis, cerebral palsy, epilepsy, etc.).
Within all of these categories, you’ll have even more choices to consider regarding length of stay, philosophy, and cost. There are nonprofit and for-profit camps, religious camps, camps run by national organizations, private camps, day camps, camps that run weekend sessions, and sleepover camps that accept kids for the entire summer.
Benefits of Camp
The benefits of camp for kids with special needs are often the same as for any child:
increased confidence and independence
activity and exercise
the opportunity to interact with other kids, develop friendships, and build relationships
positive role modeling by adults
a chance for parents to have a much-needed break
Independence is an important camp benefit. For example, an overnight mainstream camp can give special-needs kids the chance to be without parents, doctors, or physical therapists for a week. They’ll do more things for themselves and learn how to ask friends to help, which can boost problem-solving and communication skills.
Also, camp provides the physical benefits of increased activity. Many kids with disabilities or chronic illnesses are sedentary and don’t get to participate in the sports or recreational activities that their peers do. They therefore miss out on the social and health benefits that exercise brings.
Camp provides a variety of activities such as swimming, wheelchair racing, dancing, tennis, or golf. These give immediate health benefits (such as improved cardiovascular fitness) and recreational options that can carry over into adult life.
Many camps combine learning environments with these physical activities, giving kids with behavioral or learning problems the chance to develop, or catch up on, needed skills during the summer.
Starting Your Camp Search
To find a camp, make lists of the basics you’re looking for: a list of goals, a list of caretaking priorities, and a list of other considerations (such as cost).
Then consider which type of camp might best suit your child:
inclusionary (or mainstream) camps
camps for kids with a specific special need
camps for kids with many different kinds of special needs
Consider whether your child has ever been away from home, for the weekend or even longer, and what experiences might have helped prepare him or her for camp. This will help you to decide not only the type of camp, but whether your child is ready for a day camp or a sleepover (residential) camp.
Involving kids in the camp search will help to ensure that they get the most out of the camp selected. So, ask your child:
What do you want to get out of summer camp?
What are your preferences?
Do you want to go to a coed camp, or just be around kids of the same gender?
Are there any activities you really want to try?
Would you be more comfortable going to a camp with kids who do or don’t have special needs?
Are you comfortable being away from home? If so, for how long?
Do you have classmates or friends who have gone to a summer camp? If so, which ones? And did they like it?
Do you have a friend who you would like to go to camp with? What camp will they be attending?
If it turns out that the idea of camp is a bit overwhelming for both you and your child, you might want to try starting small, like weekend sessions at a special-needs camp.
Do you send your special needs child, or loved one to a summer camp? Please comment below and let us know where and what you think!
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