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Special Needs Summer Camps

Oh COVID - I am so glad to see you leaving. Last summer was so hard, particularly for Jack. There was so little to do and he was distracted and frustrated with why nothing was open. Thank God our community pool stayed open, it was our only saving grace.

This year though summer camps are back and we are super blessed to live in a community with some good options for children with special needs. I can think of three camps off the top of my head and I'm sure there are more. We were fortunate enough this year to be able to secure a spot in a residential overnight camp for my son and he is leaving today for a week of summer camp fun.

This residential camp is run by our state Autism Society and we have been twice. I was nervous sending him to an overnight camp the first time but the facility is really wonderful and the staff is incredible. I was so impressed with how they were able to accommodate needs and offer support. We are planning to even send my step-daughter soon and her needs are much more significant than Jack's.

Our local YMCA also has a summer camp for child's with special needs. A day camp and they have tons of fun here! We participate every year and I AM SO GLAD it's open again this year. (later COVID!)

There are surprisingly even some special needs sport camps at our local park district. We are so very fortunate to live in a place where these options are available because I know they don't exist everywhere. I haven't been able to find good options for my kids in my hometown area in IL. Nor have I been successful in Oregon which is another place our family spends a significant amount of time in.

So what do parents and caregivers do when there are so few options? Well here are a few ideas to hopefully help you out through the summer months when there is no school while you are at work.

  1. Mine the local chapters of the Arc. The Arc is usually pretty good at having some activities for kids and adults with various needs. They might not be all day camp options but keeping your kids occupied for at least parts of the day can be helpful in keeping them calm when they are at home. The Arc also tends to have resources and information for other places to go to get support. The more active you can be in that community the better.

  2. Summer school? I know this is likely not everyone's first option, it wouldn't be mine either and depending on your system it may be your LAST option. But it could be possible. Especially if there is risk of regression of skills over the summer months. It isn't something that is typically thought about if the school hasn't brought it up during an IEP meeting but there should be some options here. If they are worth taking is dependent on how your system runs and how effective you feel they are. I've heard horror stories and I've heard triumphs.

  3. ID/D services through Medicaid. This could be an option for your child even if you make more money for regular services. Most states have some sort of program to offer a limited amount of services regardless of the parent's income. Even if it is just respite care it might help you get through the summer months so you can work.

  4. Homeschool communities. This is where community rubber hits the road so to speak. If you live in an area with a rich homeschool community it may be worth reaching out and learning more about it. There could be some families to partner with through the summer to lighten some of the load of child care. I like this option because it has the benefit of forcing inclusion which I feel VERY strongly about. Everyone benefits in an inclusive environment, everyone.

  5. Typical camp options. Depending on the program, your child's needs, and your comfort level this can actually work. We have had success with working with a traditional camp to have "buddies" sort of pair off with our child. It won't fit every need but you would be amazed at how much people are willing to help and support things when you come with the right energy. A child a few years older than yours can work as a sort of buffer for your child and just keep an eye on things. I have seen this work amazingly well as these "buddy" kids are given some special privilege's and they feel special to have this cool "responsibility" at camp. If a kid at camp isn't possible we have had traditional camps allow us to bring in our own child's one-on-one to help out. Either way is possible and offers some good options.

Hopefully one of these options will work for you if you are struggling with finding options in your own area. It can be a challenge for sure so my encouragement is to be as flexible, creative and resourceful as possible. When you are it is amazing what can turn up for you and your child. Be willing to think outside the box and surprising solutions can turn up.

If you have any suggestions be sure to share them below and if you have tried one of these options in the past let me know. Each one might not be perfect, but there could be options in each.

Don't forget to follow me on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and TikTok for more content and of course don't hesitate to reach out and schedule an appointment for a coaching session if you are looking for some high level support.


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