Seven Tips To Choosing A Summer Camp for Your Special Needs Child

This is Part 3 of a three part Summer Camps series.

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The summer camp experience is integral to many children’s summer plans. The right camp can broaden your child’s horizons, develop new skills, create a sense of independence, and provide hours of endless summertime fun.

Summer Camps

For many parents, sending a child to summer camp requires careful planning and consideration. For parents of special needs children, planning for summer camp is often more challenging, and sometimes overwhelming.

The thought of sending your child to camp might seem daunting, but the benefits are most often worth the effort. So how do you go about finding just the right camp for your child?

Seven Tips To Choosing A Summer Camp

With careful consideration, nearly any child can have a great summer camp experience. To help ease the challenge of finding the right camp, here are seven tips help you find and choose a summer camp for your special needs child.

1. Establish Summer Camp Goals and Expectations

Before searching for a summer camp, decide what it is you and your child want from this camp experience. Ask yourself key questions about what matters most in a summer camp.

  • Do you want a camp that fosters independence?
  • A camp focused on your child’s special needs or a general camp?
  • Day camp or overnight camp?
  • Inclusion camps? Therapeutic camps? Social skills camps?
  • What activities does your child enjoy doing?
  • Does the camp offer these activities?
  • Will his personality “fit” into the camp style?

There are many camps to choose from. Establishing three to five basic “summer camp goals and expectations” based upon your child’s special needs will help you narrow the field of summer camp choices.

Kids Summer Camps

Summer Camps for Kids with Special Needs

2. Research Summer Camp Options

Now that you have a clear understanding of what you and your child’s expectations are for a summer camp, begin researching camps that meet your camp criteria. Search online. Ask your pediatrician and special needs support groups for camps they’d recommend. Read local camp guides.

Don’t forget to also talk with parents of other special needs children, your child’s therapists and teachers.

3. Develop a Summer Camp Short List

Sort through all that summer camp research information to identify several camps that appear to meet your specific camp criteria. Write down key information about each camp including:

  • Educational or recreational based camp? A combination of both?
  • Where is it located? Far from home? A neighboring community?
  • How much does it cost?
  • What is the camp philosophy?
  • What are the camp dates and hours?
  • Who recommended the camp to you?

Be sure to also write down what it was about each camp that made you decide to include it in your short list. You are now one step closer to identifying the “best fit” summer camp for your child.

4. Create a Summer Camp Key Questions List

You know your child best. You also know what it’s going to take to ensure your child has a great camp experience. Based upon the summer camps on your Short List, develop a list of five to ten key questions that you can use to narrow down the field of choices. Questions like:

  • Is the camp licensed and accredited?
  • How accessible is the camp facility?
  • What is the camper to counselor ratio?
  • How are counselors chosen for the camp? How are they trained?
  • How will my child’s medical needs be managed at camp?
  • Is there an on-site medical staff? What are they trained in?
  • Is there a “quiet zone” my child can go to if over-stimulated?
  • Will my child be able to participate in camp activities?
  • Will my child “fit in” to the camp environment?
  • How many campers will be attending when my child is there?
  • Are there financial aid or scholarships if there is a camper fee?

Ask questions that are specific to your child’s special needs as well as general camp questions. A well thought out question list can be instrumental in ensuring you get the answers you need to determine if that camp is the right choice for your child.

5. Talk With The Camp Director About Your Child’s Needs

With your summer camp Short List and Key Questions list in hand, it’s time to pick up the phone. Call each camp and ask to speak with either the camp director or medical director. Ask your Key Questions and be sure you are comfortable with the responses.

Close your conversation by asking the camp director if she has any questions regarding your child. You might find out even more information that can set you at ease about the camp.

Special Needs Summer Camps

All kids can enjoy the summer camp experience.

Camps want your child to be happy and enjoy the camp experience as much as you do. Be very open and transparent about your child’s special needs. It’s the best way to ensure a good camp fit for your child.

6. Plan A “Pre-Summer” Camp Visit

A camp site visit can go a long way in deciding whether or not that camp will “work” for your special needs child. If your child has a physical disability, a site visit might be integral in ensuring  your child’s mobility while at camp.

Timing doesn’t permit an on-site visit? Ask for references of previous campers with similar special needs, and give them a call. Nothing beats a personal reference from another family that’s “been there.”

7. Digest and Contemplate

Now sit back, review all that you’ve learned, and then sleep on it. Start the next day fresh, and get ready to make that summer camp decision. It might be a difficult one, but the right summer camp will provide your child with an experience not soon forgotten.

Fun Summer Camps

Do you have any summer camp selection tips to share with us? Please let us know in the Comments section.

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Don’t miss the other two blogs in the Summer Camp Series:

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Delaware Family Voices is a 501 C3 Non-profit organization. Consider Donating to our organization and help support Delaware families in need.

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Images: CampASCCA (kids), LudwigVanStandard (camp sign) and KamathResidency (welcome sign) via Flickr.

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