The benefits of summer camp are well known. Studies have shown that summer camp:
- Builds children’s confidence
- Increases their resilience
- Fosters independence
- Teaches new skills
- Promotes friendship
- Provides time away from screens
- Encourages an appreciation for the great outdoors
Of course, these things are valuable to all children, but for children with special needs, they can be truly life-changing.
Sadly, last summer most overnight camps and many day camps were forced to close due to COVID-19. The closures were painful for children, who missed out on the social and recreational opportunities that camp can provide and parents who were left without childcare and respite throughout the long summer months.
This summer will be different. According to Parents magazine, “Summer camp 2021 is considered a safe option, with the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) saying it’s actually beneficial for children as long as proper mitigation measures are taken.”
Just what are “proper mitigation measures?” They include:
- Vaccination of all staff (and children if possible)
- Pre-camp session COVID-19 screening followed by a 2-week period of quarantining
- COVID-19 screening on opening day of camp
- Campers will be grouped with children in their own bunks and bunks will not do joint activities
- Masks will be worn when campers and counselors are outside their bunks in public spaces
- Frequent handwashing and disinfecting of surfaces
- Daily health checks
- No field trips
But what about children with special needs who may be medically fragile? What do the experts say about sending those children to camp?
Though the AAP recommends that parents with children who are medically fragile consult with their doctors in general, the AAP recommends that children with disabilities return to camp this summer.
According to the AAP’s website: “Camps should be prepared to address the physical and emotional needs of all children, including children with special health care needs. Camp directors should seek to meet the needs of all children to promote equity, diversity, inclusion, and appropriate health-related safeguards to limit the spread of COVID-19. This may include providing camp staff appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) in cases where distancing is not possible or when mask use by campers may be challenging or medically contraindicated.”
Thought they are filling up quickly, here is a list of summer camps planning to open this summer that cater especially to children with disabilities. One of these, may be just right for your budding camper.
Camp Easter Seals UCP
Campers at this overnight camp include children and adults with autism, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, spina bifida and other physical, intellectual and developmental disabilities. The camp offers a traditional camp experience with activities such as swimming, horseback riding, arts and crafts and more.
UCP Camp Smile
Camp SMILE is open to campers from age 5 to 50. In typical years, campers’ siblings are also welcome, but this year, due to the pandemic and the need for social distancing, siblings aren’t invited to attend. The camp offers five-day sessions and the ratio of counselor to camper is 1:1. Two registered nurses and one paramedic are onsite 24 hours a day. Activities include kayaking, horseback riding and fishing.
Easter Seals Camp Fairlee
Due to COVID-9, Camp Fairlee has 50% fewer spots than it usually does this summer. The camp provides lots of supervision offering 3:1 and 1:1 camper to staff ratios. Activities include traditional camp experiences including activities such as “arts & crafts, music, sports, games, swimming, hiking, canoeing, hayrides, campfires, and more.”
Camp ASCCA (Alabama Special Camp for Children and Adults)
Jacksons’ Gap, Ala.
As of this writing, Camp ASCCA has limited openings for its summer program. The camp’s mission is “to help eligible individuals with disabilities and/or health impairments achieve equality, dignity, and maximum independence.” Located on Lake Martin, the camp’s been in operation since 1976 and offers activities such as horseback riding, water sports, mini-golf and arts & crafts.
Camp Lee Mar
This seven-week overnight camp for children ages 7 to 21 is appropriate for campers who are ambulatory but have disabilities such as autism spectrum disorders; Down syndrome; Prader-Willi Syndrome and other developmental disabilities. Founded in 1953, the camp offers traditional camp activities as well as speech and language therapy; physical and occupational therapy; social skills training; and academic assistance.
Zirconia, North Carolina
Talisman is a co-ed overnight camp for children with ADHD, autism spectrum disorders and learning disabilities. The camp serves children ages 6 to 22 and offers both outdoor adventure and traditional camp activities. Campers at Talisman must be ambulatory.
Carls Family Village
This camp offers a four-day camp for deaf and hard of hearing middle and high school students as well as several family camps. Water sports, other outdoor experiences and leadership training are among the program’s activities.
Southampton Fresh Air Home
Southampton, New York
SHFAH was been in business since 1901! The camp excels in providing summer camping experiences to people with physical disabilities from ages 8 to 18. The camp offers one- and three-week residential programs as well as a day camp program.
Rhinebeck, New York
Located in the Hudson Valley of New York State, Camp Ramapo’s overnight and day camp serves children ages 6 to 16 with social-emotional and learning challenges as well as campers on the autism spectrum. Camp Ramapo offers one- to nine-week sessions. There is a leadership program for teens and the camp offers a 1:1 counselor to camper ratio.