Finding the right camp for your special needs kid

Camp for special needsBy Cathy Ashby

Children who have special needs miss out on a lot of things—but summer camp doesn't have to be one of them.

Not only are there hundreds of specialty camps that cater to children with special needs such as specific physical, behavioral, and developmental challenges, today's traditional summer camps are more inclusive than ever.

With a little research, parents can find programs to make every kid's summer extra special.


Special needs camp or mainstream?

Before you even think about registering for a summer camp, do some legwork to find out if the program and the camp staff can accommodate your child's special needs. You're likely to find many so-called "special needs" camps that aren't appropriate for all children; on the flip side, you may be surprised to find an adventure program with provisions for children with special needs. It's up to you to find the right match.

"For parents of a special needs child, there are considerations that go beyond the usual camp search," according to Susie Lupert with the American camp Association. "Whether a parent is researching a special needs camp or a mainstream camp, it is important for parents to be upfront with the camp director about their child's needs. You want to make sure the camp is equipped your child's challenges."

Lupert suggests that you be honest and provide details. "Tell the camp director about your child's needs and how he is on his worst days. Ask if the camp has had a child with similar needs in the past and ask if you may speak with a family with a child similar to your child." This is the perfect time to ask about the camp's access to medical facilities and specialists who may be needed.

If possible, arrange for a visit to the camp and request a face-to-face with camp staff members. "Look for a camp director who is interested in meeting your child and family," says Lupert. "This gives the director insight into your child and will allow them to determine if your child is a right fit for their camp program." It also gives parents an opportunity to see the camp facilities first-hand so they can determine whether their child can manage the physical terrain.

At the end of the day, the parents of children with special needs want the same thing as other parents: They want their child to have an exciting and educational summer experience. Lupert knows it's an attainable goal. "If parents take the time and do their research," she says, "they will be able to find the right summer camp program for their special needs child."

For help finding a camp for a child with special needs check  the National Dissemination Center for Chidlren with Special Needs website.

Cathy Ashby, a former camp counselor and camp director, is a big believer in the positive powers of summer camp.