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special needs campHappy summer, everyone! Today’s topic is addressing one of the summer’s most difficult challenges: summer camps.

Selecting a Camp
Depending on what type of camp your child attends, whether it be a typical camp or a special needs camp, you will need to determine whether or not you notify the camp of your child’s needs. It may also be important to inform the camp leaders of your child’s specific challenges.

    • Special needs camps are available that are designed to specifically accommodate children with high functioning autism, Asperger’s Syndrome, and other various disabilities. These camps would most likely allow you to sleep at night knowing your child is in good hands, but they are also very costly!
    • There is also the very scary prospect (at least, if you ask me) of typical sleep-away camps. But if you have confidence in your child, their challenges are smaller, and they want the typical camp experience, the overnight camp may work. I know typical kids who went to these camps for entire summers until they were about 16, but sleep-away camps do have their own very specific challenges.

Here are a few challenges specific to sleep-away camps:

  • Many of these camps do not allow your child to have a cell phone or any contact with the outside world other than letter writing.
  • A child with special needs may feel even more isolated, especially since lots of the activities are athletic-based. If your child is anything like me, then they may be more prone to injury, incredibly uncoordinated, and athletically challenged.
  • A lot of the same kids go back year after year, so cliques are quickly formed.
  • If you are planning on sending your kid to a sleep-away camp, I would definitely inform the staff of your child’s difficulties and ask for help integrating your child into the social scene to make friends. However, from my experience, many of the counselors are high school or college students and may not have the insight or experience needed to best help your child.
  • There are also the typical experiences of living in a cabin bunk with many other children, and this may cause issues through the social hierarchy, tricks played, etc.

I never went to sleep-away camp, but I’m sure based on what I know from writing letters to people at camp since middle school, you might not want to consider this with a Special-Ism child, unless the camp staff are really hands-on and equipped to help your child!

General Tips
Regardless of type of camp you select, here are a couple of tips that may help things go a bit smoother:

  • My mom always made it a point of letting the counselors know about my autism so that they would know to look out for me and that I needed help with social relationships.
  • It’s a good idea to arrange for a buddy system for your child, so they can learn by example while at camp. Camps can be a very good social opportunity for kids with communication disorders if the time is used properly, and if not, it could be an opportunity for exclusion, anxiety, and stress to arise because camp has a very complex structure.
  • Counselors need to be aware that children with special needs may need encouragement and extra attention with meeting their daily needs. It will be less frustrating if your child knows that someone is looking after them and helping them, whether it be putting on a bathing suit, tying their shoes, or trying to make new friends. Read on…

My Recent Camp Experience
My latest camp-related experience was attending a camping retreat an hour away from my university during my spring semester. The days were very long and exhausting, from about 8am until midnight. We had bugs and lizards in the cabin, and I really wanted to go back home. I was too afraid to shower, because of the frogs some of the girls in my cabin found in the showers. I felt like I wasn’t making friends because I was shy. I also hated the food, so I was living off of the candies and protein bars I packed with me and felt mildly starved. The conference rooms we would talk in made my ears ring, echoed, and gave me sensory overloads. I cried to my parents and best friend, since thankfully, I had cell phone reception. I tried to be brave and avoided calling a cab to take me home.

I am by no means an expert camper as you can probably tell, but make sure to consider EVERY factor a camp offers or doesn’t offer so you can choose the right place for your child. I personally would find a special needs camp or a more local camp so your child has the comfort of knowing you are nearby if anything happens, since some of the more socially advanced sleep-away camps or overnight programs could be very daunting and scary for both you and your child.

Happy Camping!