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Prep Kids for Special Needs Camps

How to get kids with special needs comfortable with the idea of going to summer camp

Camp Lee Mar

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You’ve done the hard research and selected the perfect camp for your child with special needs — a place you’re sure will expand her horizons, introduce her to new friends and boost her confidence and independence. But your work isn’t over. Now it’s time to prep your camper to feel at home and thrive in her summer environment.

Be excited for your special needs camper

When talking about camp, always remain positive. “Parents shouldn’t express concerns in front of their child. They need to be their child’s rock,” says Lindsay Rogan, who works at Camp Lee Mar, a residential special needs camp in Lackawaxen, PA (pictured above).

Use phrases like “You’re going to have a great time” to let him know that you feel comfortable sending him and that you trust the staff to take good care of him. Talk up the benefits of going to camp and tell him what he can expect to do once he’s there. Saying “You’ll be able to swim in a lake, paddle a kayak, make s’mores, get to know kids like you and take a break from your regular therapy sessions” gives him a concrete idea of what his day will be like and what he can look forward to.

Visit the camp

“Families should visit the camp beforehand to take a tour and meet some staff members,” says Jennifer A. Clement, director of the Delaware Center for Youth Development and staffer at the Children’s Beach House special needs weekend and summer camp in Lewes, DE. This allows campers (and parents) to see the facilities firsthand and understand where the kids will be swimming, playing, eating and, if it’s an overnight program, sleeping.

If your child has a special diet, make sure to visit the mess hall and speak with the chef; this will assure your camper that the kitchen staff know exactly what she can and can’t eat. Ditto the nurse’s station if therapy or medications need to be administered. Initiating a relationship with the camp nurse before the summer starts can go a long way to reassure kids who require ongoing medical attention.

Many special needs camps maintain relationships past the summer. Families enrolled at the Children’s Beach House, says Clement, “have year-round service.” Once they sign up, they are assigned a case manager who sets up weekend camping trips and regular counselor meetings prior to camp that all work to up the comfort level.

Next page: Camp activity prep, enrollment strategies and packing

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