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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