.Doing Your Research
Whatever type of camp you’re leaning toward, it’s important to do your research. Many places offer information — the American Camping Association (ACA), for example, has an online listing of special-needs camps broken down by the types of camps, cost, length of stay, state/region, and campers’ ages. The site is also loaded with general and age-appropriate advice for parents of would-be campers.
You also can call local chapters of major disability organizations about camps in your area. Many organizations publish lists of camps and can connect you with camp directors and former campers.
You might have a special-needs camp fair in your area. Check the calendar listings in your local newspapers and monthly parenting magazines. Many of these are held in January or February, which means that you need to start your camp search early.
Of course, part of your research will involve figuring out what you can afford. The cost of camps varies widely, with some high-end special-needs camps costing thousands of dollars for multiple-week sessions.
You can help fund your child’s camp experience by applying for scholarships — experts say to do so from December through March, because the money is gone by April or May. You can contact charitable organizations and fraternal organizations (such as the Lions, Kiwanis, and Rotary Clubs, all of which sponsor special-needs camps). And depending on your child’s specific special need, he or she may be eligible for financial aid from your state. Other sources of scholarships include religious or ethnic charities.
One thing to know: You usually first need to find a camp that can take your child — most of these organizations send the scholarship money to the camp in the child’s name, not to the parents directly.
Questions to Ask
So, how do you narrow down your choices and pick the camp that’s right for your child? Some basic and special-needs-specific questions you’ll need to have answered include:
How long are the sessions?
What’s the cost? Are scholarships available?
Is it coed, girls-only, or boys-only?
What’s the age range of campers?
Where is it located? How far away from your home is it?
What’s the staff-to-camper ratio?
How old are most of the counselors?
What type of certification do the counselors have?
What’s the turnover rate? Do kids and staff come back?
What’s the camp’s philosophy? Does it fit with your goals for your child?
What’s the camp’s transportation system like?
If physical accessibility is an issue, what’s the layout of the camp? What provisions has the camp made (or can it make) for wheelchairs or crutches?
If your child needs a special diet, can the camp provide appropriate meals? If not, can you provide food for your child?
Do staff members have a background working with kids with special needs?
If your child has behavior problems, are camp staffers trained to handle such problems?
Do the counselors have first-aid training?
What kind of medical and nursing staff is available in the infirmary and during what hours? Can the staff administer any medications your child needs?
What’s the procedure if your child develops a complication related to his or her medical problems? How far is the nearest hospital? If your child needs specialized treatment, is it available at that hospital?
Although you can get some of this information through phone calls, emails, brochures, and websites, experts recommend visiting the camp. You can talk to the director, see the rooms or cabins, and get a comprehensive picture of where your child will be.
Probably the only way to get a true feel for the camp is for you and your child to visit it together. This is especially important if your child is going to a regular (inclusionary or mainstream) camp where they haven’t hosted many children with special needs before. This gives you a chance to point out changes they might need to make and see how the camp’s staff responds to your requests.
If you can’t visit a camp, interview the director and some staff members to get a feel for the place. Ask them to describe the physical layout and the kinds of activities your child will do. Also ask to speak with other families whose kids have attended to see what their experiences were like. In fact, word of mouth is one of the best ways to find out what you need to know about each camp.
As you’re trying to figure out which camp is best, just remember that whatever the special need, there’s likely a camp out there to suit your child. With some research and understanding between you, your child, and the camp director, your camper-to-be can have an unforgettable summer.
Hope this information was helpful! Our experience with summer camp has been incredible!
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