By: Allison Salk & Suzi Naguib, Psy.D.
As the sun has started to reemerge after a long winter, many parents begin looking ahead to the summer. As a parent of a child with special needs, planning for your child’s summer may at first appear to be a daunting task. But with early research and planning, there are many programs available to provide an enjoyable and worthwhile experience for each unique child. There are several factors to consider before you begin your research. First, think about your child’s age and interests. Depending on your child’s age, your search may be more geared towards half-day programs, full-day programs, or overnight camps of different durations. In addition, it is important to reflect on your child’s interests. For example, if your child is particularly passionate about music, animals, or arts-and-crafts, there are camps available that focus on these particular activities.
In your brainstorming process, think about the goals you have for your child in regards to summer vacation. There are programs available to help your child, for example, work on socialization skills, motor skills, reading or professionalism. The summer months can be a wonderful time for your child to work towards his or her individual goals, so be sure to have open communication to develop an idea of what both you and your child have in mind. Your child’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP) can serve as a guide for some of these goals as well. Reflect on your child’s strengths and weaknesses, for instance if your child is uncomfortable with new situations or environments, look into camps closer to home or camps that incorporate activities that your child is familiar with. If your child enjoys a little friendly competition, think about a competitive or sport-based camp instead of a community-based environment. Lastly, consider whether your child would best benefit from a special needs or a mainstream camp. Speak to your child’s teachers, reflect on past experiences in which your child has thrived, and ultimately make the decision that you are the most comfortable with in regards to your specific child. If you decide on a mainstream camp, be sure to inquire about one-on-one mentors and other special needs services available to ensure that your child receives sufficient support.
After brainstorming, you can begin to explore your options. There are many resources available, and remind yourself to cater your search towards your child’s specific interests and goals. It may be beneficial to speak to your child’s school staff for recommendations, as well as parents of children in your neighborhood or school district. Do not hesitate to contact your local park and community centers, religious organization, museums, nature societies, libraries, and schools. Remember that it is against the law for a provider to tell you your child cannot be admitted to a program because of his or her disability (www.acacamps.org). Be cognizant of whether an organization feels comfortable with your child’s participation, but throughout your initial search do not discount any programs for fear that they may not accept your child.
Once you have narrowed down the search to several programs that appear appropriate for your child, develop a list of in-depth questions. You may ask about program goals to see if they align with your child’s goals, training and experience of staff members, staff to child ratio, medical facilities and medical professionals on site, accessibility of facilities, meal arrangements, and experience with children with special needs. We recommend asking for references, as it oftentimes is beneficial to hear another parent’s perspective of the camp and their experiences.
The summer is an exciting time for both children and parents, and by planning early you can help to ensure a positive and inspiring summer experience for your child.
The American Camp Association (ACA) www.acacamps.org
http://www.mysummercamps.com (includes a “Special Needs Camp” section)
http://www.friendshipcircle.org/blog/2013/02/13/25-summer-camps-for-individuals-with-special-needs/ (25 summer camps for individuals with special needs)
Federation for Children with Special Needs http://fcsn.org/camps/