Choosing the right summer camp for any child can be stressful, but doubly so when your child has special needs. Often, the most challenging part is figuring out what questions to ask. Here are ten important things to consider before making a choice.
The Environment. Some camps are self-contained, designed and structured specifically for individuals with special needs. Others cater solely to neuro-typical (NT) children, but will allow a high-functioning child to attend with a 1:1. Some NT camps have programs that systematically support your child in an inclusion setting; other NT camps offer entire self-contained groups within the NT camp environment. You and your child’s support team must ask yourselves what would be most conducive to your child’s development.
Field trip opportunities. Ask to see a camp calendar from last summer to get an idea of the types of trips your child will be going on. Depending on your child, some of the trips may be too overwhelming. Ask your camp what happens if your child cannot attend. Will they work with you on a price adjustment? Are there alternative opportunities for them on the campgrounds, or do they have to stay home?
Staff ratio and quality of supervision. Counselor-to-camper ratios range all the way from 6:1 at some camps to 1:1 at others. If your child has some challenging behaviors, they may need some 1:1 attention. Find out if this is provided, or if you would have to pay additional costs. In addition to the ratio, you want to know the quality of the hired staff and their supervisors. What is the experience and education level of the counselors? Are the people overseeing them special needs professionals, or ordinary camp directors?
Room for growth. Children grow and mature each year, both mentally and physically. If your child is entering adolescence, make sure to find out what opportunities there will be for him/her as a teenager. Additionally, if your child is not quite ready for inclusion, but ready to start taking those steps, ask if the camp provides inclusion opportunities to help him/her get there. Ask yourself: Can this camp be my child’s summer home for years to come?
Physical, medical, and dietary restrictions. Children with special needs often have unique restrictions. Depending on your child’s needs, ask about wheel-chair accessibility, proximity to the nurse’s office, and what lunches and snacks at camp would work with your child’s diet.
The session times. When you chose a camp for your child with special needs you are also choosing a camp for your family. Check your calendar to see if you have any vacations planned. If your child has to miss a week or two, or if you only want to sign up for a couple of weeks, will the camp pro-rate the cost?
That nothing is perfect. This may be the most important thing to consider. If you try to find a camp that meets every single one of your child’s unique needs, you will only drive yourself crazy. Your child will not have a flawless summer; they will hit some bumps in the road. Given your options, choose the camp that will best help your child through those bumps and ensure that he/she has the best summer possible.