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

The Best Medicine

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Frada Wall’s special bond with Cameron Jones has been described as “a godsend.” (Provided)

“A godsend and a blessing.”

That’s what Jeff Jones said when asked about the impact of Hackerman-Patz House volunteer Frada Wall on his son, Cameron, now 11.

The Hackerman-Patz House Patient and Family Pavilion provides short- and long-term housing options for patients and caregivers who live out of town and are receiving treatment at Sinai Hospital.

Ms. Wall, 69, a retired social security administrator and Chizuk Amuno congregant who volunteers with children at Hackerman-Patz House, met the Jones family and then 7-year-old Cameron about four years ago. The Joneses were living at the House while Cameron underwent limb lengthening surgery and rehabilitation at Sinai Hospital.

Cameron suffers from fibular hemomilia, a rare birth defect in which part or all of the fibula bone is missing, resulting in leg-length discrepancy and, in some cases, foot deformities and knee ligament abnormalities. He has been undergoing surgeries to reconstruct his leg, foot and knee since the age of 16 months.

One day, when Ms. Wall visited Hackerman-Patz House bringing entertainment and refreshments, she and Cameron were paired as partners for a game of charades.

“Whenever we made a point, Cameron would jump on my lap and kiss me,” recalled Ms. Wall.

“After charades, Cameron couldn’t stop talking about how much fun he had with Frada,” said Jones. “I believe you get love and companionship from all places, not only from your immediate family, so we felt really good about Frada.”

Ms. Wall also felt the connection.

“It was a few days before Christmas and I thought, ‘I wonder if they [the Joneses] would like to go out to dinner on Christmas Eve,” said Ms. Wall. “‘They probably don’t have plans.”

They happily agreed. On Christmas Eve, Ms. Wall came to the House to pick up Cameron, his father, his mother, Susan, and his sister, Cassidy.

“When they came outside to my car, Cameron started walking around to the driver’s side,” said Ms. Wall. “I asked, ‘Cameron, why aren’t you getting in the car?’ He said, ‘Not until I kiss you.’”

For the next almost two months of the family’s stay at Hackerman-Patz House, Ms. Wall visited Cameron frequently. Thereafter, when the family returned to Baltimore for doctor’s appointments, they made sure to visit with Ms. Wall. Eventually, Cameron’s doctor left Sinai to work at a hospital in Florida. As a result, the Joneses no longer come to Baltimore. Yet, Ms. Wall and Cameron keep in touch.

“A few months ago I got a call from Jeff,” said Ms. Wall. “He said, ‘Frada, Cameron misses you so much. Won’t you come out to New Mexico to visit us for a week?’”

Ms. Wall accepted the invitation.

“We put her in an RV, and all of us toured our area. We went through Colorado, Arizona and Utah. We visited mining towns, Four Corners, Mesa Verde,” said Jones.

“Before I left to come back to Baltimore,” said Ms. Wall, “Cameron said, ‘Aunt Frada, will you go back into my room?’ His mother was playing a child’s piano, and Cameron was down on one knee with a black box in his hand. He asked me to marry him.”

“He even gave Frada a ring,” said Jones. “He adores her. Frada is so warm. She has a very gentle spirit. To us, she is a special gift. Cameron’s condition is very painful. God placed Frada in my son’s life and made his abject pain go away. He’s not in pain when she’s around.”