Summer Camp: Finding the Right Fit for Your Child

(©iStockphoto.com/Thodoris_Tibilis)

(©iStockphoto.com/Thodoris_Tibilis)

Now that summer camp sign-up season is upon us, parents of children with disabilities face added pressures and concerns in their search for the right fit.

According to Jennifer Lazlo Mizrahi, president of Respect- Ability, “there are two kinds of camps: a camp for just kids with disabilities and a camp for everyone with an inclusion program.”

The differences are significant, and there are benefits to each.

Exclusive or Inclusive?

A camp exclusively for children with disabilities is beneficial in that kids get to be with their peers — other campers who have the same or similar difficulties. “It is frequently good for kids with a mobility challenge,” Mizrahi said. “Typically, inclusive camps have a lot of activities like rope climbing and canoeing.”

It can be frustrating for a child with physical disabilities to be unable to fully join others in assorted activities. Additionally, a camp solely for children with disabilities will most likely know how to handle every possible situation that could arise.

On the other hand, inclusive camps provide children with special needs “the benefit of being able to make friends with their typically developing peers and vice-versa,” said Mizrahi. “The inclusion aspect benefits both typical and special-needs campers.”

Flexibility Counts

Leslie Seid Margolis, managing attorney at Disability Rights Maryland, explained that flexibility on the camp’s part should be a huge item on the checklist when searching for an appropriate camp.

“Maybe a child with autism has some sensory issues and really doesn’t like getting his or hands dirty, so arts and crafts might be an issue,” Margolis said. “It could be a child with Down syndrome who needs a little extra time to learn a skill.”

It may benefit the camper to attend a camp that is happy to accommodate, either getting a little bit of extra help for the camper or finding a different craft or activity that will make the child more comfortable.

“The camp shouldn’t have to completely change everything to adopt a certain child,” Margolis said. “Look for a camp that is willing to be flexible and make accommodations for your child.”

Ideally, a camp will be required to comply with Americans with Disabilities Act and accommodate disabled children. However, it is important to ascertain whether a camp is required to comply. If the camp is run by a religious entity, for instance, it might not be obliged to provide all of the help a child needs. Accommodations can differ depending on the disability of the child.

The Trust Factor

The essential thing for a parent to look for when sending their special needs child to camp, however, is trust.

“Parents need to be able to trust that they can tell a camp of their kid’s specific needs and trust them to make sure that it will be taken care of,” said Mizrahi. “Sometimes it will fail if there is not trust — a parent won’t feel comfortable telling the camp about a kid needing ADHD medication daily and the kid will be kicked out for being too hyper without the medicine.”

Advanced planning and an honest exchange of information can facilitate the formation of a trusting relationship. For parents, this means giving as much detail as possible regarding their children’s needs (such as medications and behavioral concerns). Conversely, the camp staff should be welcoming and willing to work with parents to figure out how best to help their individual child grow and learn.

Parents also may want to share with a camp strategies that have proven effective for their child in other settings.

“Things that have been successful in the school setting such as behavioral support can help too,” said Margolis. “If parents are willing to make school staff, such as counselors, accessible to camp staff to help consult and plan if there is something potentially complicated, it always helps to have someone they can ask for guidance.”

dnozick@midatlanticmedia.com

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