How do summer camps and programs help the person with a disability or family support system?
Summer programs provide an opportunity to expand a child’s social skills, physical activity, creativity, and strategies to reduce stress. They allow children to get to know other children from different areas. Having a child attend a summer camp may also provide the parent/caregiver time to relax and develop their own personal interests.
Summer programs may include academics and enrichment activities. Summer camps and programs will broaden a child’s level of independence. Benefits include increasing self-confidence, participation in various activities and exercise, interactions with peers that may develop into friendships. Summer camps also provide exposure to a variety of adult role models for the child and allows the child to do things independent of the family. It also gives parents time to do things for themselves.
The idea of having a child with special needs attend a summer camp may bring about feelings of fear and anxiousness of the unfamiliar for both the parent and child. Will the child get the attention needed for their disability? Will my child make new friends? How will other kids treat my child? There are many camp choices for kids with special needs, from specialized camps to regular camps that accommodate kids with special needs. Just as The American Disabilities Act (ADA) (link to ADA section) requires schools and businesses to make reasonable accommodations, it also protects people with disabilities attending camps to have reasonable accommodations they need to fully participate in the activities of the camp program.
Finding the Right Camp
Summer camps may be local day programs or extended stay camps in the same or another city. Summer camp programs may be for a week or longer, for a full day or half day. The summer programs may be an inclusion program, for children with and without disabilities, or may be for children with a specific disability. Many local agencies offer programs for specific disabilities and age groups. Palm Beach County Parks and Recreation offer programs throughout the county and at the Therapeutic Recreation Center. Additionally, many local municipalities, such as Town of Boca Raton, City of Palm Beach Gardens, Delray Beach and Community Education Schools may offer summer programs through their recreation departments.
Finding a summer camp. Research is important! First decide on your main objective for the camp. What is it you want your child to gain by attending camp… new friendships, specifics skills such as an art or sport, academic skills, increased fitness and activity, or exposure to new environments? What type of activities is the child interested in? Are any friends attending? Other factors to consider include if the child has ever experienced spending the night away from the family and if the child is comfortable with staying away from home.
Summer camps range in prices and some may offer scholarships. But, you must act early – usually between December and March. Charitable organizations, religious and nonprofits may also have special funding to help children with special needs attend summer camps. Check with the local Lions Club, Kiwanis, and Rotary Clubs to see what is available.
How can a parent/caregiver gain access to this service?
Because Palm Beach is a very large county, local summer programs fill quickly. If you want your child to attend a specific summer camp it is best to apply early. Typically in the spring the newspaper will have a section on summer camps. The Community Education and Parks & Recreation Departments also have newsletters describing their summer programs. For the PBParenting website, Click Here they provide up to date information on local summer camp programs and after school enrichment programs. Other organizations which may offer summer learning programs include:
- The YMCA or other community-based groups (such as The Arc of the Palm Beaches, Els Foundation, CARD, United Cerebral Palsy (UCP), Goldcoast Downs Syndrome Association, Autism after 21)
- Museums and performing arts organizations (for example: Morikami, Malz Jupiter Theatre, Delray Old School Square)
- Palm Beach Zoo and Science Center and botanical centers like Mounts Botanical
- Adult schools or community colleges (Palm Beach State College, Lynn University, FAU, Palm Beach County Schools Community Education programs, The Benjamin School, and other private schools)
- The American Camping Association (search the website by “Disabilities or Special Populations”) Click Here
Questions or observations you would recommend parents to investigate before selecting a summer program?
What are staff and counselors background with disabilities? What type (types) of certification do counselors have? What is the age of counselors? What type of background screening does the camp use for staff? What is the ratio of camp counselors to participants? What is overnight supervision?
How does the camp communicate with parents? What medical care is available? How accessible are buildings, trails, water activities, transportation? Are special diets allowed? Do participants have choices in what to eat? How are child’s therapies scheduled and provided?
Does the program match what you are wanting your child to participate in? What is the structure of the daily schedule? Do children have a choice in activities to participate in?
Cohen, lisa. 4 benefits of summer camps for special needs children. Activekids.com.
Nemours. Kids Health for Parents. Camps for kids with special needs.
Walters wright, lexi. Summer learning programs for kids with learning and attention issues. Understood for learning and attention issues.
Waltari, mary l. Choosing summer camp for kids with disabilities. Special needs alliance.
Written by: Iris Neil