Summer camp – both day camps and overnight camps – offer opportunities for children to learn new skills, form friendships, experiment with new interests, and learn new things about themselves. Children with intellectual disabilities are increasingly participating in these programs. But truly succeeding in a camp requires parents to be good consumers, advocates and partners.
Be a Smart Consumer
In considering a camp for your child, do your research. There are many types of camps: day and overnight, specialty camps (sports, horseback riding and drama), separate camps for children with various special needs, and camps with inclusion programs for which The Arc advocates.
Ask how the day is structured. What activities are offered? Are campers required to participate in all activities or can they opt out of some? Is there a “free choice” period? What about children who need breaks? What are the background and ages of staff? Is English their first language or are they proficient in English? How are meals run and supervised? How is medication administered and monitored?
Be a Good Advocate/Be a Good Partner
Build on the countless hours you have spent advocating for your child in the school system and use these advocacy skills on behalf of your camper. What modifications is the camp willing to make for your child? Explain the types of programs where he/she has been successful. Speak to the inclusion specialist, division head or head counsellor.
Provide school evaluations, therapist reports, occupational therapy and physical therapy reports. This will help the camp assess whether they are a good fit for your child and assure the camp truly understands your child as they strive to meet his/her unique needs.
Challenges and Opportunities for Success at Camp
Once your child is accepted, the opportunities for friendships and social growth are unparalleled: interactions and opportunities for verbal and nonverbal interactions and instant feedback, discovering other children with common interests and developing enduring friendships.
While your child will not be in an academic setting, some of the same issues experienced in school may surface perhaps from frustration with and difficulties in social situations. Living in a bunk with ten or more peers can also lead to misunderstandings. Being away from home can be an opportunity for growth, but it can also lead to periods of homesickness. Sharing tight quarters means little privacy and little personal space. Your child will have to keep his/her possessions contained, learn to shower, dress and undress modestly and quickly, and he/she will have to carefully navigate and negotiate many social situations.