Choosing a Summer Camp for Your Child with Special Needs

Elena Noble, MPT | May 2012

This excerpt was taken from an article written by Douglas Lathrop in Kids on Wheels, a publication now no longer in print, but because I think the ideas are so good I want to pass them on.

A child with disabilities learns to clap with her counselor at a special needs summer camp programFor your child, the foremost benefit to attending summer camp is, quite simply, having fun. Beyond the fun aspects, spending time at camp can strengthen a child’s sense of independence and ability to socialize with others – both of which help to boost his or her self-esteem.

Some children with disabilities benefit the most from being around other disabled kids – seeing others facing the same challenges and not feeling like the odd one out as they may at home. For other kids, being in an integrated environment helps them forget about their disabilities for a little while and helps them feel like part of the group, perhaps for the very first time.

Given the diversity of today’s summer camp programs, how does a parent decide on the best camp for a child with disabilities? American Camp Association (ACA) president Ann Sheets recommends, “Start with the child. What activities does he or she enjoy? Include the child in the decision-making process.” The ACA and other organizations, such as Easter Seals, are excellent resources in finding a camp that matches your child’s age, interests, and abilities.

Once you and your child have looked through the special needs camp directories, pored over the brochures, and narrowed your search down to a handful of programs, you should ask the camp director a lot of questions, including:

  • How many campers are there at a time? How long is the usual stay?
  • What kinds of activities does the camp offer?
  • Is the summer camp designed only for kids with disabilities, or is it integrated with other kids?
  • If your child has particular physical or dietary needs, how will the camp meet them? In the event health problems arise, how close are the nearest medical facilities?
  • What is the ratio of campers to camp counselors? How experienced are the campcounselors with working with children with disabilities?
  • What kinds of screening and training do the counselors and other staff undergo?
  • How do parents communicate with their children during camp?
  • What is the cost? What kinds of scholarships or grants are available?

Sheets also suggests getting referrals from other parents of special needs children, meeting the summer camp director and checking out the facility in person. As in all decisions involving your child, doing your homework is essential. “And remember that your child should be involved in the decision about which camp to attend.”

Looking for a Summer Camp? Check out these resources below:

The American Camp Association provides a searchable database of all ACA-accredited summer camps, including those that serve children with disabilities:

Easter Seals offers residential and day camp programs for children with disabilities throughout the country. Their website includes a nationwide directory of camps and advice for parents on choosing an accessible camp:

Use these websites to find a summer camp suited the needs of your child’s specific disabilities:

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