Children with special needs miss out on a lot of things—but summer camp doesn’t have to be one of them. Not only are there hundreds of specialty camps that cater to children with specific physical, behavioral, and developmental challenges, today’s traditional summer camps are more inclusive than ever. With a little research, parents can find programs to make every kid’s summer extra special.
Before you register for a summer camp, do some legwork to find out if the program can accommodate your child’s needs. You’re likely to find many so-called “special needs” camps that aren’t appropriate; on the flip side, you may be surprised to find that an adventure program has provisions for children with special needs. It’s up to you to find the right match.
According to Susie Lupert, executive director of the American Camp Association, New York and New Jersey, “For parents of a special needs child, there are considerations that go beyond the usual search. Whether a parent is researching a special-needs or a mainstream camp, it is important for parents to be up front with the camp director about their child’s needs. You want to make sure the camp is equipped for your child’s challenges.”
Lupert suggests that you be honest and provide details. “Tell the camp director about your child’s needs and how he is on his worst days. Ask if the camp has had a child with similar needs in the past and ask if you may speak with a family with a child similar to yours.” This is the perfect time to ask about the camp’s access to medical facilities and specialists.
If possible, arrange for a visit to the camp and request face-to-face time with camp staff members. “Look for a camp director who is interested in meeting your child and family,” says Lupert. “This gives the director insight into your child and will allow them to determine if your child is a right fit for their camp program.” It also gives parents an opportunity to see the camp facilities first-hand so they can determine whether their child can manage the physical terrain.
At the end of the day, the parents of children with special needs want the same thing as other parents: They want their child to have an exciting and educational summer experience. Lupert knows it’s an attainable goal. “If parents take the time and do their research,” she says, “they will be able to find the right summer camp program for their special-needs child.”
Contributing editor Cathy Ashby, a former camp counselor and director, is a big believer in the positive powers of summer camp.
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