If you have a child with special needs who wants to learn a specific skill at summer camp, such as bike riding or art, what are your options?
Camps for kids with special needs often are general camps accommodating many types of disability. Others focus on one type of disability, such as camps run by the Epilepsy Foundation, the Lions (for kids with hearing or vision impairments) and United Cerebral Palsy.
However, other camps teach specific skills to children with special needs. Some skills-oriented camps are just for kids with disabilities, while others are general camps that make accommodations. Here are some examples.
Art and Drama
The Main Line Art Center in Haverford, PA, enrolls approximately 700 kids in its summer program. “We’re looking at how we can be more inclusive,” says Stacie Brennan, director of education development. The center cooperates with parents to make accommodations, such as pairing the child with a teen volunteer or even working with the child’s wrap-around or TSS (therapeutic support staff).
At St. Jude Education Center in Chalfont, PA, music teacher Mike Mead leads a three-week summer theater camp for kids in grades 4-8. The program is limited to 30 participants who are expected to handle the rigors of an intensive drama and musical camp. The camp has had success with kids with special needs.
“Music speaks a universal language. All of the kids that attend our camp have the same emotional attachment to music and theater,” says Mead.
Kids with intellecutal disabilities who are looking to fine tune their athletic skills attend Camp Shriver in Lawrenceville, NJ, an annual summer camp hosted by Special Olympics of New Jersey.
It offers athletes ages 8 and up the chance to participate in a four-week program of skills and competition in soccer, basketball, flag football, bocce, track and field and other sports.
“We bring in a professional staff with qualified trainers,” says Matt Willey, director of sports development. Last year the program reached its maximum of 100 campers. Special Olympics also offers a Youth Athletics Program for ages 2½ -7.
Kids with special needs often struggle with motor skill development and balance and coordination issues. They often give up trying to ride a bike, says Lisa Ruby, director of operations for Lose the Training Wheels (LTTW) bike program.
LTTW teaches individuals with disabilities to become lifelong independent bike riders at more than 70 camps across the U.S. and Canada.
Last year the group conducted a camp at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. This summer, University of Delaware will also participate. The week-long camp enjoys an 82 percent success rate.
Some two dozen horse riding stables offer programs for kids with special needs. For example, Special Equestrians in Warrington, PA teaches horseback riding to individuals ages 4 and older with physical and cognitive challenges.
The SummerWinds Stables in Hartly, DE, offers six weeks of camp for ages 9 to 18 with typical and therapeutic riding. “There is not a child we have ever turned away,” says Elena DiSilvestri, executive director, whose stables provide rescue and sanctuary to abused, injured, homeless, and retired horses.
Interactive Kids in Marlton, NJ, offers social skills programs led by behavior specialists for ages 3 -19 with autism, developmental disorders, ADD/ADHD and other neurological impairments. “We help with impulse control, hyperactivity and frustration management,” says therapist Amber Block.
Nearly 100 kids ages 3 to young adult, most with special needs, attended one- and two-week camps last summer at Acting Antics, which recently moved to Frazer, PA. “We use drama and music to help develop appropriate social skills in youngsters with social and/or developmental needs,” says founder Cindy Schneider.
Jo Rizzo is a Chalfont, PA mother of five, including a daughter with Down syndrome.