Last year when Tiffany went to camp, there was a girl in her cabin with a more severe case of cerebral palsy than her own. Because Tiffany had spent her whole life with people helping her, she naturally wanted a chance to help others. “When we went to the dance, I got to push my new friend around in her chair,” says Tiffany. “I also got to help her eat.”
The ties that bind
“One of the best things to be said about camp - any camp - is the opportunity for the children to make friends. And for children with special needs, it’s especially important. They find out they are not alone, that there are others with similar disabilities,” says Cameron.
When camp is over, what do the children take with them? For some, new skills. For others, new friends. And for many more, simply a fond memory of having had a break from their normal routine.
“Our campers look forward to returning year after year,” says Haldeen. “For many, we are their summer vacation. The minute they drive away, they are making plans to return next year.”
Traditional or special needs?
While camps designed for specific needs offer very specialized care, some families would prefer to attend a traditional camp that caters to all children. Before enrolling your children in a camp, visit the facility and make sure the layout and surroundings meet your expectations and needs. Following are a few things parents should keep in mind before choosing a traditional or special needs camp for their child:
• Is the camp is accredited by an organization such as the American Camping Association (ACA, www.acacamps.org) or the National Camp Association (NCA, www.summercamp.org)? Does it meet the organization’s standards for kids with special needs, including facility and staffing requirements?
• What training and experience do the directors and counselors have in working with kids with a need similar to your child’s?
• Are there other families you can contact whose children have attended the camp that might be willing to discuss their experience with you?
• What is the ratio of counselors to campers? For children with severe disabilities, the ratio should be at least one counselor for every three campers.
• What are the camp’s health and safety procedures? What about the facility? Is there a registered nurse in residence? Have emergency arrangements been made with a local hospital?
• Can you visit the camp to see the program firsthand? Do they have sessions year-round? If it’s a regular camp, are special efforts or programs in place to integrate a child with special needs? Is it accessible for children with limited mobility?
• What about the camp’s registration fee? (Keep in mind that expense and quality may not go hand-in-hand, because many specialized camps charge only a fraction of actual costs. Find out if scholarships are available.)
Denise Yearian is the former editor of two parenting magazines and the mother of three children.