Attending summer camp can be a beneficial experience for any child. For children with special needs, camp can be a reprieve from some of the struggles of home life and can have a significant impact on a child’s life. These camp directors at special needs summer programs share just a few of the many benefits of camp for a child who has special needs.
Looking for camps for kids with special needs? Check out The Best Summer Camps for Kids with Special Needs in NYC and Beyond
Feeling of Belonging
“We find that what is truly transformative for our campers is that, often for the first time, they feel like they are a part of a larger community and that their voice really matters. That feeling of belonging is key for any child as they develop. Nothing can compare to how a child feels when they know that they are accepted for who they are,” says Debbie Sasson, Director of Camp Akeela, a coed overnight camp in Vermont & Wisconsin that helps children improve their social skills. “Our campers often are a minority at their schools and the peers and adults in their life expect them to be different. At the right camp, they can be ok just being themselves. Once they feel that level of acceptance, they are more open to honest and empathic feedback from trusted adults and peers about how they may find more success in the world outside of camp.”
Jaime Jezek, Director of Camp Sun ‘N Fun, a day and overnight camp for children and adults with special needs in Williamstown, NJ says, “Other camps might have large goals like passing a deep water swim test, but here, a goal might be making just one friend or using a pair of scissors in art. Every achievement is celebrated as special.”
“Most parents come to me and say they want their child to be included and to make good friends,” comments Elyse Miller, Director of the Inclusion Program at Buckley Day Camp in Roslyn, NY. “Parents will tell me that their child doesn’t have friends at home and if they do, they are children like them. At camp, their friends are typical who just want to be their friends. One of my seven-year-old campers with medical issues invited all her camp friends to her birthday and every child came. Her mom couldn’t believe that everyone wanted to be there for her daughter.” Jezek adds, “Peer and social interactions are key things we hope to provide. A lot of our campers don’t make strong connections when at home. There often isn’t time for things like playdates because their regular care and therapy is time-consuming and takes precedence. We will tell a parent whose child has autism that their son made a friend and they were holding hands. They can’t believe it and said their child doesn’t hold anyone’s hand!”
Miller often hears from parents before camp about some of the tasks their child can’t do by themselves. “During the summer, I’ll call them and say that he can cut his own food and put on his own socks. There are no issues at all. Camp allows parents to loosen up and allow their children room to grow and to do things on their own.”
“Many of our campers are mainstreamed at school and there might only be one or two other children with special needs who understand their journey,” states Jezek. “At a school, the wheelchair ramp is often separated from the main entrance but at camp, no accommodations need to be made because the camp environment is ready for them. Everyone is using chubby brushes and chubby markers. It’s good for our campers to know that no one is looking at them differently and that everyone has a place here.”