I know it seems like march break was only yesterday, but it’s time to start thinking of warmer things – sunshine, warmth, and summer camp! As a kid, I loved summer camp (most of the time) and one way my job changes during the summer is that instead of providing school support to kids on the spectrum, I help them adjust and thrive at day camp.
Most kids benefit from day camp, but it can be hard to choose the right one, especially if your child is not independent yet. There are some general questions to ask yourself though, that can make choosing a camp a little easier.
1) Consider your child’s needs.
Is your child verbal? Will he (I’m using “he” because it’s easier just to pick a pronoun) speak to unfamiliar adults? Is he capable of letting an adult / grown up (camp counselor) know if he needs to use the bathroom? Will he eat lunch without someone sitting there and reminding him? Does he need 1 on 1 support to function in the school environment? If so, you may need to look into getting 1 on 1 support for camp. Some camps do this for a fee, while others include it in the cost of camp. Still others allow you to send your own support person for free to camp. If your child is at a stage where he only needs support in a few activities, there is also the possibility of pairing him up with one of the teenage Leaders in Training (LITs) for those activities. Be honest when assessing your child’s needs. Over or underestimating their independence will make for a very unhappy camper.
2) Does an activity your child already participates in do a summer camp?
Many activities such as Girl Guides, Boy Scouts, Martial Arts, and music lessons often run full week summer day camps (or even overnight camps), with the same instructors or at least other familiar faces. Plus it’s an activity your child presumably enjoys already so there’s a high interest value there. The level of assistance available for kids with special needs varies with different organizations so you need to check what is available and make sure it fits your needs (see number 1 above).
3) What are your child’s interests?
While there are still some traditional “day camps” around that have a little bit of everything, there are lots of specialized camps that may be a better fit for your child. Is your child really into lego? There are specialty camps for that. Does your child have a dramatic streak? Look into theater camps where budding thespians can get their fill of the stage. These camps may not have as much experience with special needs kiddos but they will usually work with you to create a great experience.
4) Are there any subsidies / grants available to help pay for an aide or defray the cost of camp?
Camp isn’t cheap and good camps can be even more expensive. Check with the camp to see if they have any camperships that can help with the costs. If you need to send a support worker with your child, some community groups offer grants to help cover the cost. Ask everywhere – the worst that can happen is that someone says no. You may need to apply early for these so check as soon as you start looking at camps.
Camp is a big part of the childhood experience, and one that every child can take part in if the right combination of camp and support is found. Once you’ve found the right camp, then the real fun begins.