While summer camp may conjure up fond memories of canoeing, campfires and playing Capture the Flag, if you’re the parent of a child with special needs you may have mixed feelings about having your child attend a summer camp program. You want your son or daughter to enjoy all of those wonderful experiences that you might have had – to learn, to grow, and to make memories – but you’re worried. Will my child have fun? … fit in? … be safe?
The good news is that summer camp does come in every form and there really is something for everyone – including your unique and complex child. The following are five important benefits of cool camp jobs:
1. Independent Living Skills. A summer camp program can help children develop more independence in caring for themselves. It is common and understandable for parents of children with special needs to overprotect them and perhaps not fully realize it. Many parents are amazed at how much their children can, in fact, do for themselves when challenged to do so. At many camps, skills such as room and dorm care, daily living skills, time management, organization and budgeting are taught in structured, supported settings, helping children stretch and grow and feel wonderful about their new skills and themselves.
2. Friendships. Summer camp provides children with the opportunity to make and maintain authentic friendships. Many children with special needs have trouble fitting in with their typically developing peers. The great thing about a summer camp program for children with special needs is that all of the participants have special needs of some sort. They support and are kind to one another. For many of these campers, this is the first time in their lives that they have felt true acceptance and enjoyed friendships and busy social lives.
3. Social Skills. Some programs offer social skills training to help children understand how to build healthy relationships, set boundaries and build self-advocacy skills. There are opportunities for campers to practice their social skills with staff, with other students and with members of the surrounding community. Many programs enlist the expertise of staff trained in teaching social skills, conversation, pragmatic language skills and problem solving.
4. Academics. Solid academic programs that are thematic and multisensory help students to maintain their math, reading and writing skills over the summer months. History, science, music and art programs are also available at some camps. Many highly qualified, highly educated special needs teachers work during the summer at camps.
5. Adventures. Summer is a time for having fun! Some programs offer campers the opportunity to experience the surrounding community by attending professional sporting events, dances, whale watching, beach outings, water parks, kayaking, deep sea fishing and cultural events, such as concerts and plays – typical teenage experiences! This allows for skills learned in the classroom to be practiced in a public setting. For example, campers may practice ways to be safe in public spaces, advocate for their needs, manage money and make purchases in real-life situations.
If you are looking for all of these benefits, summer camp just may be the answer. Summer is right around the corner. Make it the best one yet – a summer of a lifetime for your child.