You've decided to send your child with special needs to camp
this summer. But that's just the first step - you can choose a
camp designed just for kids with
or a mainstream camp where your child will be with kids who have no
special needs. Once that's decided, what can you and your child
do to get ready?
Preparing Your Child - and Yourself
If you and your child haven't visited the camp, make sure
you get as much literature about it as possible, including a
description of the layout and a video, if the camp has one, and go
over these together. Tell your child that you'll be checking in
regularly with the camp staff and stress that he or she can always
let the staff know if his or her needs aren't being met.
Talk to your child about his or her feelings, and if concerns
arise, offer reassurance that you and the camp staff will take
every precaution to make sure that all kids stay safe. You might
find it helpful to talk about why your child is attending camp and
what some of his or her goals might be, such as to try a new sport,
to make new friends, or to just enjoy a break from doctors'
appointments and therapy sessions.
When kids are intimidated by the thought of attending a
residential camp or an inclusionary camp, parents might consider
starting them in a day camp or a sports team for kids with special
needs. This can give them the skills and confidence they need to
feel comfortable about going to a residential camp. Start with
regular sports activities and day camp. Then use a special-needs
camp to get them used to being away before sending them to an
Another option to consider is sending a child to camp with a
friend or a sibling. If kids attend an inclusionary or mainstream
camp, the buddy doesn't have to have a special need. Going with
a friend can reduce stress for both parents and kids, since kids
with special needs and their camp buddies will be looking out for
Sharing Information With Camp Staff
Some parents are reluctant to share too much information with
camp staff for fear it will have negative repercussions for their
child (for example, they may wonder if the camp will still take
their child or if they're setting their child up for failure).
But good camps will want and need to know as much as possible - the
more information they have, the better.
Consult with your child's doctor and other specialists, such
as a physical therapist, to make sure you provide the camp director
and staff with all the necessary information, and check with the
camp staff to make sure they know everything they need to.
You can help educate the staff by spending time with them and
answering and asking questions before you drop off your child. This
can be critical. For example, if your child will be attending a
mainstream camp, you'll want to make sure that everything is
accessible for your child and that the staff understands your
Many camps have paperwork you can fill out to share information
as well, including information about dietary and medical needs. And
regardless of whether your child is going to a day or residential
camp, you should give the staff a list of emergency phone numbers
and email addresses, and make sure they know how to reach you at
all times during your child's camp stay.
If your child takes any
, include the phone number of your doctor, in the event the
prescription is lost and needs to be refilled by camp staff. Check
whether the camp infirmary stocks your child's medication, too.
If it doesn't, make sure you send extra medicine in case of an
What to Pack
Try to limit the special equipment your child brings, especially
if it's expensive or breakable. Kids going to a mainstream camp
are likely to want to be like all the other kids, so do what you
can to accommodate that desire. And mark or label
with your child's name to make it easier to keep track of
belongings - that goes for everything from crutches to a retainer
If the camp hasn't sent you one, you should call ahead for a
list of recommended items. Every camp has different
You also have the option to provide any support staff your child
needs. If your child needs a therapist, you can have that person
come in on a predetermined basis to provide care. Or maybe your
child needs more intensive, round-the-clock care - ask the camp
director what you can do to accommodate these special needs.
Remember, however, that you may want to let your child have a
vacation from therapy or other treatments. Before you decide to
postpone any treatments, though, you should consult with your
Dealing With Anxiety and Homesickness
Many camps don't allow direct contact between parent and
child while the camp is in session - they do this to help the
campers stay focused on their activities. This can be a daunting
prospect for parents of kids with special needs, which is why
it's important that you figure out, ahead of time, how
you'll get information about your child's status. Will the
camp call you with updates, or can you call on a regular basis to
speak to the supervisor and camp staff regarding your child's
Like any parent of a camper, though, parents of kids with
special needs can write letters to remind their kids that
they're loved and missed, and that they can't wait to hear
all about their campers' many experiences.
And just like any other child, your kid probably won't want
you to cramp his or her style while away at camp. The best thing
you can do is respect your camper's need for freedom and
independence while he or she is in a safe camp environment.
Steven J. Bachrach, MD
Date reviewed: October 2007
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice,
diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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