How to find a Special Needs Camp

Every child deserves an enriching summer camp experience, regardless of their abilities. Use these tips to assist you in your search of the perfect camp setting for your special child.

Selecting the best summer camp can be challenging for any parent, but even more so if your child has physical, emotional or medical challenges. Fortunately, many privately-owned centers as well as city departments of parks and recreation are beginning to realize the necessity of programs for our unique children, although it can oftentimes be difficult to find information on when, where and how to enroll. I’ve listed a few tips below to help you find the perfect camp for your child to have a fun, enriching and safe summer!

Check with local State and County Parks: City and state-run parks are a great first place to look if your child’s disabilities do not include tactile defensiveness or outdoor respiratory issues.  These programs offer a great deal of outdoor play and social interaction in a setting that accommodates for minor physical impairment and a surplus of supervision. Non-ambulatory children can have a great time as well, creating craft and art projects, reading stories with friends, and a number of other classic camp activities that can completed indoors. This is an ideal option for your child to have the traditional day camp experience without feeling out of place around typically developing children. Bonus: City camps are usually far cheaper than privately-run programs. Be sure to enroll early; they fill up fast!

Visit Special Needs Preschools in your Area: This is a best-kept secret; if your child attended a preschool that catered specifically to special needs children or you know of one in your area, chances are they offer a summer program for school-age children as well. Many of these schools do not advertise their summer programs because they first want to enroll current and past-generation students to ensure them a position. However, you can generally call them up and request to put your child’s name on a waiting list. It’s not a guaranteed ‘in’ but it’s definitely worth a shot. These centers are usually very low cost as they are subsidized by the state, and usually have medical personnel on site. Look into getting on these waiting lists as early as possible! 

Speak with your Child’s Exceptional Student Coordinator at School: If you’re little one has an Individualized Educational Plan or receives therapy at their elementary school, you have surely spent a great deal of time with the ESE coordinator. You may not know, however, that she can provide you with a wealth of information regarding non-school related programs as well. Be sure to talk with your child’s ESE teacher, coordinator and even physical and occupational therapists – they come along with a large network if valuable resources for the differently-abled.

Look into ESY:  Most elementary schools will present this option to you if it applies for your child, but it never hurts to ask if you haven’t been made aware. Extended School Year is a program that most schools offer for children who they believe will regress if not mentally stimulated over the summer break. Not all children qualify for ESY, so be sure to discuss the parameters of the program with your child’s ESE coordinator. If they do qualify, there are usually a couple of sessions for the better part of the break, and they generally can provide transportation to and from the school. ESY is more summer school than summer camp, but nonetheless a great program should your child require it.

I wish you and your child a fantastic summer, filled with laughing, learning, and fun!

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