Special Needs Camp Considerations“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid. – Einstein.
Every child should know that they are gifted. Summer camp helps them discover these gifts.
I have worked with families of special needs children in the summer camp and respite care setting for more than 20 years. Through this experience, I have found that a major obstacle for many of the kids with special needs is their own parent's desire to protect them from the world. It is this need to protect, that often keeps children with special needs and their parents from developing the natural support system that comes with having friends and getting involved with their communities through recreational activities, clubs, and even church. Children with special needs, like all kids, need to be around other children and adults, this is how they learn how to play “nice”, how to make friends, how to be polite, etc. One of the most effective ways to build a strong foundation for any child is for parents to model and expect good behavior and provide their child with plenty of opportunities to see and practice these behaviors with others. Parents need to remember that how well a person gets along with others has more influence over their quality of life then does their academic success or failures.
While Cub Creek Science and Animal Camp is not right for everyone, it can provide a great opportunity for kids who love nature, science and animals, regardless of a child's academic or social success. Cub Creek is not a special needs camp. It is a camp that is open to every child who is able to follow the rules and wants to be at camp. Because of our unique animal and science theme, Cub Creek finds itself in a unique position to support a wide variety of kids, including kids with a wide variety of labels including; Downs Syndrome, Asperger's Syndrome, learning disabilities, anxiety disorders, ADD and ADHD, and many more. We are not very concerned about a child's label at camp. We want to help every child make friends and have positive experiences that can share with others for years to come.
Is summer camp right for my special needs child?
As the director of a children’s summer camp, this is a question that I am often asked. In response, I ask the parents a few questions of my own:
- Does your child like being outdoors in nature?
- Does your child want to go to summer camp?
- Is your child able to follow rules and get along with others?
- Does your child like animals?
- Does your child like asking questions and then trying to discover the answers to those questions (science)?
If the answer to these questions is yes, then my answer is also yes. Now, I know that the last two questions don't apply to a lot of other camps, but those questions can be replaced by whatever other specialty a camp may offer.
A camper's desire to be at camp is the most important factor in determining his or her success / enjoyment. From my experience, camp directors are more than willing to provide supports to children with special needs, if the child wants to be at camp and has the ability to get along with other kids. Summer camps are offering so many specialties these days that it is possible to find a camp for just about any interest.
Many studies have shown that summer camp helps kids increase their independence and self-esteem. Parents of special needs children are often surprised by all the things that their children were able to do for themselves at camp. Things that they often expect their parents to do for them at home.
That said children with special needs often benefit from a little prep work before heading off for their first summer camp adventure.
Here are several things that a parent can do to help their child prepare for a successful summer camp experience.
Allow your child help pick the camp. Review camp websites or brochures together and choose a camp that looks good to both of you.
If your child will be sleeping in a sleeping bag at camp let him practice sleeping in a sleeping bag on his mattress for a few nights to get used to the feel of it.
Encourage your child to make her own bed and pick up her own clothes each morning. Most camps have cabin inspections and campers are expected to clean up after themselves.
Have your child practice taking quick showers. Shower time is usually pretty limited at camp and very few camps have bath tubs.
Practice self-advocating. That’s a fancy way of saying speaking up for yourself. Talk with your child about times when he may have to ask for help, such as letting someone know when he doesn't know where something is (his next activity or the closest bathroom), or when he shouldn't eat something because of a food allergy. Be sure that your child has a chance to meet the camp director and knows where to find him or her. Speak to the camp director in advance and ask who your child can speak with if she is having trouble. The first choice should always be the cabin counselor, but it is nice to know the “person in charge.”
Review a copy of the camp's daily schedule, practice going to bed and getting up at "camp" times.
Let your child visit a camp for a tour prior to attending camp as a camper.
Have your child help pack for camp and be sure to label everything including tooth brush, tooth paste, hair brush etc. It’s amazing how many personal items look just like everyone else’s.
Send along some things to do during the downtime such as favorite books or magazines, card games, puzzles, quiet crafts, journals to write in, paper and crayons to draw with.
Prepare an information page or overview of your child’s special needs for camp. Send a copy prior to your child’s arrival and then bring several copies with you to camp on the first day. Be sure to give a copy to your child’s counselor, the camp nurse, and an extra one for your child’s file.