Camp Registration: It’s Not Too Late!

Summer Camp

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
Roanoke, Virginia
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
Mobile, Alabama
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
Chestertown, Maryland
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
Lackawaxen, Pennsylvania
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.

Talisman Camps
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
Brooklyn, Michigan
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.

Camp Ramapo
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.

Five Family Camps You Should Know About

Family of five sitting around a campfire

In recent years, more and more summer camps have created inclusive camping programs for children with disabilities. In these camps, children with disabilities experience camp alongside their typically developing peers. Other camps set aside designated weeks when they offer programming specifically geared toward children with special needs. But families who want their children with disabilities to enjoy authentic summer camp experiences also have another option — family camps! Like traditional summer camps, family camps offer healthy outdoor living and opportunities to sample new activities, acquire new hobbies, develop talents and practice socialization skills. Additionally, they offer families the chance to bond with each other as well as with other families who face similar challenges. Family camp is also a great way to help future campers acclimate to summer camp before sending them off to camp on their own. We’ve searched the internet and compiled this listing of family camps that serve families with children with special needs.

Camp Akeela
Located in Thetford Center, Vt., Camp Akeela serves campers with high functioning Asperger’s syndrome, non-verbal learning disabilities and their families. Parents and children participate in typical camp activities such as sports, arts & crafts, swimming, boating, campfires, climbing and ropes course. The daily schedule includes a mix of kids-only; parents-only and family activities. It’s not too late to register for this summer! Family camp runs from Aug.16-Aug. 21.

Easter Seals Family Camp
Easter Seals runs two family camps, both of which are in Ontario, Canada. To be eligible, campers must be under 18 and have a physical disability. Each camp is five days long and features activities including games, crafts, archery, swimming and more. There is a mix of family, children’s and adult programming and families can participate in as many or as few activities as they like. Parents are responsible for their children’s medical needs, but supervision is provided during children’s recreational activities and childcare is available until 10 p.m. every evening.

Camp Merrywood in Perth, Ontario is in session Aug. 20-25.

Camp Woodeden, in London, Ontario runs from Aug. 4-Aug. 9.

Both camps are currently full but have waiting lists.

Whispering Winds Special Needs Family Camp
This Christian camp located about an hour from San Diego offers an opportunity for children with developmental disabilities, their parents and siblings to experience the joys of summer camp while communing with other families in a safe and accepting environment. While children and siblings participate in age-appropriate camp activities, parents have opportunities to take part in programming designed to strengthen and fortify their marriages. The camp’s staff includes special educators, developmental disabilities experts and trained buddies. Whispering Winds Special Needs Family Camp weekend takes place from July 26-July 28.

Camp Raman Tikvah Family Camp
Serving Jewish campers with developmental disabilities and their families, Camp Tikvah, in the Poconos Mountains, offers activities like music, Israeli dancing, arts & crafts, swimming and athletics as well as Jewish learning and Shabbat services around the lake. Each camper is paired with a buddy and special programming is provided for siblings. Parents are invited to participate in daily sessions about raising children with special needs. This year’s session takes place from Aug. 14-Aug. 18.

Joni & Friends Family Retreat
These week-long family retreats for families whose loved one has a disability not only offer traditional summer camping activities in a Christian environment, they also provide respite for exhausted parents. Camps’ grounds are entirely accessible and children are attended to by trained volunteers. Joni & Friends offers several different types of retreats in different locations including the Traditional Family Retreat, Urban Family, Single Parent Getaway, Wounded Warrior Getaway, and Marriage Getaway. The following Joni & Friends family retreats take place in the late summer:

Trout Lake Family Retreat, Potosi, MO (July 26-July 29)

Spruce Lake Family Retreat, Canadensis, PA (July 29-Aug. 2)

Bison Ranch Adult Family Retreat, Overgaard, AZ (July 31-Aug.4)

Bonclarken Family Retreat, Bonclarken, NC (Aug. 5-Aug.9)

Chicago Urban Retreat, Cedar Lake, IN (Aug. 11-Aug. 15)

Bonclarken Family Retreat II, Bonclarken, NC (Aug. 12-Aug. 16)

Twin Rocks Family Retreat, Rockaway Beach, OR (Aug. 12-Aug. 16)


Six Tips for Easing Pre-Camp Anxiety

Summer Camp Sign

Now that June is here, many schools across the country are preparing to close up for summer vacation. Camp season, on the other hand, is just getting started. Whether your child attends a day or sleepaway camp, the experience can be transformative. According to the American Camp Association’s Case for Camp, “A quality camp experience provides our children with the opportunity to learn powerful lessons in community, character-building, skill development, and healthy living — a meaningful, engaged, and participatory environment.”

Yet, despite all those advantages, many children and parents suffer significant anxiety before they send their children to camp. For campers with special needs and their parents, pre-camp anxiety may be more pronounced.  Here are some tips to minimize concerns and maximize the chances that your child will have a successful camping experience.

Be transparent
If you have not already shared all pertinent information with the camp’s staff, now is the time. Though it’s natural to have some concerns about revealing sensitive information about your child’s medical status or behavioral tendencies, not doing so could put your child, camp staff and other campers at risk. “The more they know, the more prepared they can be,” writes Maggie Loiselle in Indy’s Child magazine.

Talk about camp with your child
Prepare your child for the camping experience by talking with him about his hopes, expectations and fears. There are plenty of books for children of all ages about camp and even about camp and disability that can spark conversation and help to put your child at ease.

 Take a pre-season visit if possible
If your child is attending a later camp session, having her visit to get a sense of what to expect is a great way of helping to ease the transition. If that’s not the case, visiting the site of the camp before camp is in session (if that’s possible) or meeting with directors or other staff members may also help.

 Write a social story or role-play
If your child has difficulty with social skills, try creating a social story or role-playing some camp-related situations. Here’s a link to a great resource for social stories.

Plan pre-camp sleepovers
If you have family members or friends who are well-acquainted with your child and equipped to manage his special needs, arrange to have sleepovers with the trusted person(s). This will help your child to feel more comfortable being away from you for a significant period of time.

Enjoy the break!
If your child will be attending sleepaway camp, enjoy some well-earned time off. Assuming you have chosen a camp with a responsible staff that will provide a safe, happy and compassionate environment, rest assured knowing that you are giving your child a wonderful opportunity!


Making Camp Inclusive

Photo of Camp Chi campers

When parents make the decision to send their child to camp, they have many options. They can opt for a day or sleep-away camp, outdoor adventure camp, sports camp, theater camp, religious camp and so on …  The possibilities multiply each year. If their child has a disability, they also have a choice to make when it comes to deciding whether to send their child to a “special” camp designed specifically for children with disabilities, an integrated camp that welcomes children with disabilities but groups them separately from their typically developing camp-mates, or an inclusive camp where campers of all abilities participate in all activities together.

In today’s blog post, we’ll “visit” Camp Chi, an inclusive overnight camp located in Lake Delton, Wisconsin. Camp Chi is affiliated with the JCC in Chicago, which also runs a variety of other camp programs.

For almost 20 years, Camp Chi has worked to integrate children with special needs into their camp program through its partnership with Keshet a nationally recognized provider of educational, recreational, vocational and social programs for individuals with disabilities. Yet until recently, there were limits to what they could provide.

In 2015, Camp Chi was selected as one of six camps to participate in the Ruderman/Alexander Inclusion Initiative. Thanks to the Inclusion Initiative, Camp Chi is now able to: “enroll more campers with disabilities, increase the length and variety of sessions offered, enhance staff training and focus more closely on social inclusion.”

In addition, the Initiative enabled Camp Chi to hire its first inclusion coordinator, Jennifer Phillips. Phillips is passionate about inclusive camping and entirely committed to making Camp Chi a fully inclusive environment. She’s also a Camp Chi alumna.

Central to Camp Chi’s inclusion philosophy says Phillips, is the fact that “everyone at Camp Chi is part of the community. It’s just the culture here,” she says.

Of the 1,500 children Camp Chi will serve this summer, Phillips says that 150 campers will have some sort of special need. “We have kids in wheelchairs, kids who are on oxygen, kids with feeding tubes and kids with autism and ADHD.” Although campers with special needs participate in the same activities as their peers, they benefit from the one-to-one support of their own counselor.

“We’re able to serve everyone. Why should someone have to go to a special camp,” asks Phillips.

But how does camp staff handle all of those special needs? Phillips says that prior to the beginning of the season, staff members receive intensive training from the staff at Keshet; Keshet staff members are also on site throughout the summer to ensure that campers’ needs are always being met.

Although Phillips admits that there are still parts of the camp’s grounds that are not entirely accessible—she says that only one or two camps that she knows of are fully accessible— Camp Chi is working toward that goal.  Currently, some bunks are accessible and others will soon be renovated to meet accessibility standards. Camp Chi’s pool, arts and crafts facility and gymnasium are all fully accessible.

How do Camp Chi’s typically developing campers feel about attending a camp that’s inclusive of children with all abilities?

“I have rarely had a camper or parent say they feel uncomfortable with the inclusive nature of our camp,” says Phillips. In fact, she says, “I think inclusion benefits the typically developing kids just as much as the kids with special needs!”

Making Summertime Special

Photo of adult and 2 children in a kayak

For more than a century, North American summer camps have provided children and young adults with meaningful opportunities to immerse themselves in nature, develop life-long friendships, discover their strengths and talents, gain independence and engage in communal living.

According to the American Camp Association’s Case for Camp, “A quality camp experience provides our children with the opportunity to learn powerful lessons in community, character-building, skill development, and healthy living — a meaningful, engaged, and participatory environment.”

For children with special needs, who are all too often stuck on the sidelines, a summer camp experience can have an even more profound effect.  Today, there are so many different ways to take advantage of all that camp has to offer. No matter what your child’s disability, whether you choose a day camp, or sleep-away camp, an inclusive camp, where children with disabilities play alongside typically developing peers, a family camp, a religious camp or a specialty camp focusing on sports, arts, academics or computers, there is truly something for everyone.

American Camp Association logoBut how can you tell if your child with special needs is prepared for a summer camping experience? How do you go about finding the appropriate setting? Will your child be safe?

We went directly to the source—The American Camp Association—to ask these questions. Here’s what we learned:

E.D: Why are summer camping experiences beneficial for children with special needs?

ACA: Camps serving kids with special needs provide the opportunity to share a common bond with other campers, and to focus not on their needs, but on having fun.  Camp unlocks potential and builds self-esteem.

What are some considerations for parents who are choosing a camp for their child with special needs?

The American Camp Association (ACA) always recommends that parents first check if a camp is accredited.  If a camp is not accredited, parents should ask for the reason why the camp isn’t accredited.  Parents can go to and use our Find a Camp tool to search for camps that are best for their child.

The following is an example of a list of questions to ask camp directors when considering sending your child to camp:

·  What is the medical oversight?

·  Who is directly responsible?

·  How are special dietary needs accommodated?

·  When does the director call home?

·  Where are the camp’s adaptive programs?

·  How many activities will my child be able to try at camp?

Additionally, some camps may have rugged terrain.  It is always good to visit a camp to check the accessibility.

How should parents decide whether to send their child to day or sleep-away camp?

ACA recommends gauging every child’s readiness based on that individual child.  Has he or she had successful overnight experience at a friend’s or with a relative?  Is the child asking for an overnight camp experience?  Ask the camp which program is tailored to each age group.

In the next several weeks, Enabling Devices will explore some of the many summer camping options for children and teens with special needs and their families. Stay tuned!

Do you have suggestions or comments about summer camping for children with special needs? Talk to us on Facebook!

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