summer camp for kids with special needs

Choosing a Summer Camp for Children With Special Needs

With spring fast-approaching, summer camp registrations are opening and many parents are deciding whether – and where – to send their children during the three-month break. Most share the typical concerns such as cost, commute, class size and quality of care. But for parents of children with special needs, these concerns can be magnified.

  • Will my child be able to fully participate?
  • Will my child get adequate attention?
  • Will they make friends?
  • Will the staff and other kids understand my child’s special needs?

You want to know that the recreation and education programs are going to be inclusive as well as safe and that your child will have the same opportunities as every other kid to grow, enjoy unique experiences and gain independence.

There are a broad range of summer camp choices in Northeast Ohio, from highly-specialized to mainstream. Not every program will be a great fit. You should know, however, that your child has certain rights under the Americans With Disabilities Act, which requires all camps to make reasonable accommodations so children with special needs can attend. There are a few exceptions (religious organizations, for example, are exempt). Plus the determination of what is “reasonable” may be in dispute.

However, while there have been cases of Ohio parents fighting for (and winning) summer camp inclusiveness, we also know many parents would just as soon skip the battle and find a summer camp that will welcome their child with open arms.

Therapy and Wellness Connection offers summer camp in Brecksville for children of all ages and abilities. It’s affordable, therapist-led and siblings are welcome too. We plan a different theme each week and incorporate field trips, crafts, games and other adventures. Interested families can call our offices to reserve a spot.

Benefits of Therapist-Led Summer Camp for Children With Special Needs

Summer camps in general offer many benefits. Lots of kids regress to some extent over the summer without daily structure and education. Kids with disabilities may experience a marked regression of social skills. Although one-on-one speech, occupational, physical and ABA therapy over the summer helps, the loss of daily interaction with their peers at school can put them at a disadvantage come fall. Camp can help offset the negative effects, provide structure and give them a chance to grow.

Our summer camps at Thrive/Therapy & Wellness Connection are therapist-led, meaning they are organized, overseen and managed by speech therapists, occupational therapists, registered behavior technicians and physical therapists. We do this for several reasons. First, we want to help our patients’ work on carrying over their therapy goals in everyday activities. Consistent carryover helps those lessons “stick.”

Beyond that, therapists can design activities in a way that ensures there is something everyone can enjoy – whether that’s a zoo outing or horseback riding or crafts or nature walks or visiting a local aviation facility. We understand their unique needs and challenges, so we can help make they are safe and their needs are met – but also that they’re having a great time, connecting with their peers, learning new things and practicing their independence.

Plus, it’s not just open to patients. All kids are welcome!

Questions to Ask When Considering Camps

Whether you choose us or another summer camp provider, it’s important to do some homework and determine whether the camp you select will be right for your child.

Some things you will want to consider:

  • What kind of experience do I want my child to have? Do you want your child to go camping? Go on day trips? Get more one-on-one attention, improve a specific skill or have many opportunities for social action? Answering this question will help you narrow down your camp search.
  • What are my options? Some camps offer overnight trips, some are only during the days, some last for the full summer and some only span a few days. The American Camp Association reports there are 100 accredited day camps that primarily serve individuals with special needs and nearly 400 total overnight camps. Some are just for children, and others include adults too.
  • What are the staff training and ratios? Ask about staff qualifications, whether the counselors/staffers have background or experience in your child’s focus area and the ratio of staff-to-kids. The American Camp Association offers guidelines of what the ratio should be, depending on the needs of the children they serve and the activities they’re engaged in. For example, during activities where a camper might need constant individual assistance, the ratio should be 1:1. If a camper needs minimal assistance, camps can do fine with a ratio of 5:1.
  • What are your policies on discipline? If a camper doesn’t follow the guidelines of the camp, what actions does the camp staff take as a matter of policy? Make sure you are comfortable with these, and have a good understanding of the camp’s communication policies (i.e., how you will be updated about your child’s well-being and progress).

If you have additional questions about our summer camp and other programs, our team at Therapy & Wellness Connection is happy to answer!

Therapy & Wellness Connection – your connection to a life without limitations – is a pediatric therapy center providing speech therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy and ABA therapy to children with special needs in Northeast Ohio. We also offer summer camp, day programs, education services, vocational counseling and more. Call us at (330) 748-4807 or send us an email. Serving Brecksville, Akron, Cleveland and surrounding communities in Northeast Ohio.

Additional Resources:

Camps and Title III of the Americans With Disabilities Act, American Camp Association

More Blog Entries:

Children “Thrive” at Inclusive Brecksville Summer Camp: Open House 4/14, April 14, 2019, Therapy & Wellness Connection Brecksville Summer Camp Blog