How To Prepare Children With Special Needs For Camp

Are you considering sending your child to camp?

For most children, being away from home with unfamiliar kids and adults is a big deal. But it can be even more so for children with special needs.

That’s why it’s important that you focus on preparation. But it’s more than just preparing your child for this big step. How you prepare yourself is equally important. 

So you’ll want to consider the following:

Know What Your Child Needs

When you have a child with special needs, you know that there are always many considerations before taking any action. So when preparing for something as important as camp, you’ll definitely want to have all your bases covered. 

The first decision, of course, is whether your child will be attending a residential or day camp. And then you’ll need to determine whether he or she would fare better with a special needs specific camp, or a traditional mixed ability camp. 

Look for a place that offers activities that interest your child, but also consider what sort of new experiences could further his or her development.

Special needs camps offer a wide array of activities from climbing, swimming, and team sports to music, art, and drama. Many of them engage in outdoor activities where they learn about nature. Some even focus on academics.

Also, gauge whether a larger or smaller camp will be more comfortable. 

For children who require additional consideration, be sure to consult with his or her healthcare team, as well as teachers and therapists. Your child can certainly blossom with new experiences, but you want to be sure that he or she is ready for this particular experience.

Which brings us to the next consideration.

Children with Special Needs Want Details

But you already know this.

Neurotypical kids may not have a need to know what their sleeping quarters will look like, where they’ll be eating, or how the shower will work. But for kids with special needs, attention to these sorts of details can be crucial.

Many special needs camps understand that their campers require these special details to make their experience more comfortable. Those who do often provide a detailed information packet with daily schedules and plenty of pictures. 

Look for a camp that offers an open house.

That way, you take your child to check out the camp so that he or she can get a feel for it and meet some of the people there. If they can actually see the camp and understand what happens there, they will feel much more comfortable when the day to go there actually comes.

Pack Wisely

Depending on the age of your child and the specific challenges he or she faces, you can encourage your child to do some of the packing.

There will be a camp requirement list, so that’s a great place to start.

You can discuss with your child the items on that list and then work together to gather them and pack them in bags. Stress the importance of marking and labeling everything you’re packing and explain to your child the reasons for this.

Special needs children often have additional requirements such as an item that will assist in soothing your child or help him or her to sleep. Also, steer clear of any heavy or breakable items.

Be sure you know about the laundry situation too. If a favorite stuffed animal, article of clothing or blanket gets dirty, you’ll want to know how long it will take before your child can get it back. So pack a back-up just in case. 

Finally, if your child is feeling some healthy reticence to the event in the week preceding it, you may want to pack some sort of treat or toy that you can offer as a reward for him or her when the momentous day finally arrives.

Get to Know the Camp Staff

Sharing information about your child with the camp employees does not make you overprotective. In fact, it’s a win-win for everyone. 

For example, if your child is prone to aggressive behavior or meltdowns, informing camp personnel of this situation will allow them to prepare for this possibility should it occur. This will make it less awkward for everyone involved.

Furthermore, letting them know what makes your child “tick” — where he or she excels — is also incredibly helpful. Also, if you use a reward system with your child at home or at school, fill them in on this. It can be incredibly helpful.

Remember that these are people who are skilled in working with the special needs population so they do not shy away from this information. Rather, they see you as a prepared parent and happily receive this information so that they can make your child’s experience as fulfilling as possible.

Open Yourself up to the Experience

Try not to underestimate your child’s ability. Although it might feel very scary to both you and your child, camp can be an incredibly freeing experience for both of you. 

Even though your child might not show an interest in certain activities, under different circumstances he or she may be open to them. Sometimes simply sharing an experience with new friends and different people could change the ability to enjoy such activities.

And you don’t need to call the camp every few hours. Set up a time you’ll check in with your child, then leave it at that. 

Allow the process of your child acclimating to this new environment and activities to be organic. Give him or her the necessary time and space to grow.

This is your chance to take some deep breaths and time for yourself while you celebrate the fact that your child is having a new and enriching experience. So try to enjoy yourself!

You’ve earned it.

Embrace This Next Stage in Your Child’s Life

The journey of raising children with special needs is very challenging, but also immensely rewarding. 

If you feel that going to camp would benefit your child, then contact us today to request free information about special needs camps.

We’ve done all of the research so that you can move forward with complete peace of mind.

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