Summer Camps for Children With Disabilities
Across the country, summer camps function as a way for children of all ages to spend the warmer parts of the year participating in activities specifically designed for their enjoyment and entertainment. Parents of children with disabilities may be concerned about their child’s ability to participate in the traditional summer camp experience, but there are a wide variety of summer camps designed to benefit children with disabilities. Some programs are all-inclusive (meaning they house activities for people across a range of ability levels), while others are designed for individuals with specific disabilities. There are camps particularly aimed at serving children with learning disabilities or developmental delays, intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), chronic illnesses, cerebral palsy (CP), and many other specific disabilities. Regardless of the category, each camp is intended to create a safe, entertaining, and memorable summer for its campers.
Benefits Associated with Summer Camp for Children With Disabilities
For children with disabilities, many of the benefits of a summer camp are very similar to those gained by a child without a disability. Some of the main benefits of participation in a summer camp program include the following:
- Increased independence and self-confidence
- Positive role-modeling exemplified by camp leadership
- The opportunity to participate in fun activities and exercises
- The opportunity in interact with other children, develop friendships, and build meaningful relationships
In addition to these general advantages, children with disabilities may also prosper from:
- A break from the potentially ‘medicalized’ nature of their disabilities
- A chance to be without their parents, physicians, or physical therapists
- The health and social benefits of increased physical activity
- Exposure to accommodating recreational activities that can carry over into adult life
- Certain educational activities integrated with the physical exercises at many camps
Exploring Your Summer Camp Options
There are a plethora of summer camp options for children of all ability levels. Choosing the right camp depends primarily on your child, and your assessment of their interests. Some of the options explored by parents include:
Local Park and Community Center Recreation Programs – Often lasting a half-day or full-day, these programs focus on sports, music, art, or other specific interests. These camps usually cost less than other summer camp options and include the opportunity for summer camp benefits close to home.
Specific Activity and Workshop Programs – These options can include things like language-learning, theater programs, music programs, or summer-reading programs. They can be found through sources like museums or nature societies.
Day Camps – These programs also often have limited hours. Religious organizations, YMCAs, Boys and Girls Clubs, and schools occasionally offer these programs at a reasonable price. Additionally, many camp organizations that are well-known for their overnight camp programs also offer day camps. Some notable day camps for children with disabilities include:
- The Friendship Circle’s Summer Day Camp
- The Friendship Circle’s Summer Teen Camp
- The National Ability Center’s Discovery and Ability Camps
- The Easter Seals of Wisconsin’s Camp Kee-B-Waw
- The Easter Seals of New Hampshire’s Camp Connect
- The All Abilities Horse Camp
Overnight Camps – Overnight camps can range in duration from a couple of nights, to weeks, months, or the entirety of the summer. These options usually cover a broad range of activity, entertainment, and adventure options. Some of the most well-known overnight camps for children with disabilities are:
- The Friendship Circle’s Overnight Camp
- The Paddy Rossbatch Youth Camp
- The National Ability Center’s Overnight Camp, Camp X-treme, and Camp Vision
- The League for People with Disabilities’ Camp Greentop
- The Easter Seals of Wisconsin’s Camp Wawbeek
- The Easter Seals of New Hampshire’s Camp Sno Mo
- The Talisman Camps
- The Children’s Association for Maximum Potential (C.A.M.P.)’s C.A.M.P. Camp
- Horizon’s Summer Camp
- Camp Lee-Mar
- Camp Ramapo’s Summer Camp for Children
- Camp Meado Wood Springs
- Paul Newman’s Hole in the Wall Gang Camps
Deciding on a Summer Camp for Your Child
When navigating the decision to send your child to summer camp, there are many things to consider. These considerations range from the personal interests of your child, to the arrangements of the programs you are considering. You may find it useful to keep the following thoughts in mind when narrowing down your camp options:
- What are your child’s interests? If your child has a special interest or passion, it may be possible to find a summer camp option that incorporates this interest in its program.
- Consider your child’s level of development. What skills is your child working on improving? There are likely camps out there that will help practice these skills in a fun and creative way.
- Be aware of your child’s comfort with certain situations – this may help to narrow your search. For example, if your child does not feel comfortable spending a night away from home, then a day camp may be a more suitable option than an overnight camp.
- Pay attention to the program’s goals to ensure they align with your child’s personality, capabilities, and interests.
- Make sure to note the qualifications and training of staff members, the ratio of staff to campers, and the presence or absence of medical professionals at the campsite. These may be important factors depending on the amount of care your child may need while at camp.
- Ensure that the camp’s living, bathing, feeding, and accessibility arrangements will work for your child. If information is not available at first glance, consider making contact with a staff member to discuss possible arrangements.
For children of all ages and ability levels, camp can be an enjoyable and memorable way to spend the summer. Summer camp gives children the opportunity to push themselves, gain valuable skills, and acquire independence and self-confidence – all of these benefits can be particularly helpful for children with disabilities.