As summer camp season is upon us, we are looking for camps that serve both of our boys, one with a genetic anomaly. We’ve learned a lot by trial and error. Here are key factors to minimize stress and help find the right camps for children with special needs.
Consider groups that are already serving your child.
Groups that serve your child at school and in therapy will be the most successful at finding ways to keep him interested and engaged, so start with them. Our child’s therapy group offers a summertime program that allows us to include therapy sessions with camp. This is an added benefit because we have fewer trips to the therapist and more family fun time. Other things to consider:
- Many afterschool programs, such as the YMCA, offer summer camps and activities staffed by school aids and therapists.
- Your church may not have specialists certified for special needs, but church groups usually have loving people in an environment familiar to your child.
- Children with ASD often have problems adjusting to change; familiar faces and settings ease the transition to a camp setting.
Consider groups that serve your child’s diagnosis.
If your child has a fairly common medical condition, camps that cater to the diagnosis are often the way to go. These organizations typically employ nurses, therapists and volunteers with children with the same diagnosis. They are usually the safest places to leave a child with significant needs because they are better equipped to recognize medical warning signs and less likely to leave children on the sidelines.
Consider typical programs that have licensed therapists as counselors or owners.
Some of the most exciting recreational activities for children might not scream, “We serve special needs.” When in doubt, ask. Many outdoor and sports camps are run by therapists and therapy students. They may not have the staff to accept every child with special needs, but if you already have a typical child attending the program, many will serve your other child as well. Be sure to provide plenty of time for scheduling of licensed camp staff for children with special needs.
Check your local city parks programs.
The City of San Diego Park & Recreation Therapeutic Recreation Services program has a wide variety of social activities and camps for children (and adults) with special needs. These programs are broken down by age. Many camps hire school staff and special education technicians. The benefit of these programs is not only familiarity with students with disabilities, but also the reasonable cost. Find more information at www.sandiego.gov/park-and-recreation/activities/trs.
Try a skilled nursing program.
When your child’s medical needs are too much for a regular program, consider a skilled nursing option. Live-in facilities around the county offer programs with 24-hour nursing care, including medical treatments. Be sure to consult your pediatrician as you are researching these programs.
Create your own camp.
Let’s face it, the cost of several weeks of camp can add up, especially when you have multiple kids. A couple years ago, we spent one month of the summer sharing childcare responsibilities with two families. We took turns taking the kids on local excursions while the other moms worked. The “camp” theme was based on the interests of the mom in charge that week.
Finally, here are tips to consider for any camp you choose:
- Talk with counselors each morning to ensure that someone has eyes on your child. Help them connect your child’s needs to his face.
- Ensure all medications are labeled and that someone on staff can administer them. Ensure they will be taken on every field trip.
- Make sure there is a plan in place for allergic reactions and that staff has your emergency numbers, including specialists and your pediatrician.
- Let staff know your child’s transitional needs and his likes and dislikes.
- State your expectations and understanding of what will happen throughout each day.
Communication is the key to a successful camp experience and the more the staff understands about your child, the more fun they are bound to have!
Find a list of camp programs for kids with special needs here.
Emily Dolton is a local artist and mom of two boys, one with 22q11.2 Deletion.