Planning for summer camp is the time when parents of typical children make camp choices based on their budgets, their child’s friendships, preferred activities and camp location. For parents of children with special needs, however, planning for summer camp involves additional considerations.
When selecting an appropriate summer program for children with special needs, questions may arise, such as the following: Is the staff equipped to manage my child? Will the staff be sensitive and respectful towards my child? How will my child interact with others? Will my child adjust to and follow rules in a new and potentially less structured setting? Will my child regress or lose the gains that were made in school?
What steps can parents of special needs children take in order to address their concerns and to ensure a successful and affordable camp experience?
Here are a few things to consider:
1. Does your child qualify for summer services provided by your school district?
2. What is your budget and what type of camp might be affordable if your district does not have an appropriate program? Often full day eight-week summer programs can be costly. Consider half-day or week-long specialty options.
4. Will the camp accept support from outside providers?
5. Do the camp directors and counselors have experience with children who have special needs that are similar to the needs of your child?
6. How does the camp handle sensitive information regarding your child with special needs?
7. Is the camp willing to meet with you and your child to determine whether their summer program is appropriate?
8. What is the physical space of the camp? Can your child navigate the camp with the level of support that the camp provides?
9. Can your child visit camp a few times prior to the start of summer in order to ease the transition and address any further concerns?
11. What type of medical care does the camp have and what is the level of attention the camp will pay to your child’s medical needs?
Summer should be a relaxing time for both you and your child. Staying within a budget and being equipped with adequate information can relieve anxiety and ease the transition to summer.
Alison Gilbert, Ph.D. is a licensed clinical psychologist. She is currently a clinical assistant professor at Hofstra Northwell School of Medicine.