Summer camp is a time-honored tradition that most kids enjoy. They get to go away for a few weeks or a few months and enjoy life away from mom and dad while also getting to meet new friends, explore new places, and participate in a variety of fun new activities.
For kids with special needs, summer camp can be a little more challenging. It is important that parents make the right preparations so that their children with special needs can still participate in this tradition and have a good time. Here are a few things that parents can do to make camp a good experience for their children with special needs:
Pick the Right Camp
Depending on what your child’s needs are, not all camps may be able to accommodate them. Activities and lodging may not be appropriate for children with physical disabilities, and the camp staff may not be trained to deal with children with behavioral or developmental issues. It’s important to find a camp that not only has the facilities your child needs, but also has staff with the right training and a program of activities that are suitable for your child.
You can check out this list from the National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities to get started. Research what might be available in your area for more options.
Choose a Camp that’s Local
Even with the right facilities and the right staff, the camp may encounter an issue in which they cannot provide something that your child needs. It’s important that you are nearby so that you can come quickly to provide assistance or to bring your child home, if needed. In many cases, it might be a simple situation of being homesick or of being nervous in a new situation, which children with special needs may take a little harder than other children.
Choose a Shorter Stay
A month-long summer camp – or even one that lasts several weeks – may not always be appropriate for children with special needs. Choose a shorter stay of about a week to ensure that your child does not become overwhelmed. If a week is too long, there are also many day camps that will allow your child to get the camp experience without the longer stay.
Prepare with Overnight Visits
If you do choose a camp that will include overnight stays, it’s best to prepare your child with overnight visits away from you – especially if your child has never been away from you. You can do this with a caregiver with whom your child feels comfortable, such as a grandparent, aunt or uncle. Once your child is comfortable with that, you might consider an overnight with a friend (who has parents who can handle your child’s special needs).
Packing for a child with special needs includes much more than making sure he has enough underwear. You may need to pack special gear, medications, or even equipment. Be thorough with your checklist, thinking through every part of your child’s day to cover what he will need. You cannot be sure that the camp will have it. It’s also a good idea to pack comfort items, such as a special blanket or toy that your child loves. This can help him to deal with the stress of being in a new environment a little better.
Preparing your child with special needs for a summer camp can be challenging. However, your child doesn’t need to miss out on this beloved experience because of special needs. Select the right camp and take the right precautions, and your child can have a memorable and enjoyable experience each summer.
Chloe Trogden is a seasoned financial aid writer who covers specific opportunities such as grants for minority students. Her leisure activities include camping, swimming and yoga.