Summer is a time for children to explore new skills, make friends, gain some independence, and experience new and exciting adventures. Children with disabilities need such experiences, too, so they can grow and develop and reach their potential.
But summer can be a stressful time for these children’s parents. These are some of the questions that percolate in the brain of a parent when considering a summer program. How do I know, they wonder, that this camp is right for my child? Will my child be safe? Who are the counselors? How are they trained? Do they really know how to work with children who have my child’s disability? Is my child ready for a sleepaway experience or should I choose a day camp?
Ten Questions to Ask
Following are 10 questions to ask about a prospective summer program:
1) What is the philosophy of your camp?
2) What goals do you put in place for the children?
3) What ratios of staff to children can you provide?
4) How do you check the backgrounds of your staff and how are they trained?
5) What types of disabilities do the other children have?
6) How do you deal with behavior issues?
7) What kind of medical staff do you have?
8) What is the percentage of returning campers?
9) Can you accommodate special diets?
10) Is there any opportunity for my child to interact with children who do not have disabilities (if this is your desired goal)?
Day vs. Sleepaway
When considering day vs. sleepaway camp, consider how prepared your child is to be away from you. Have you utilized overnight respite services? Has your child stayed at a friend’s house? Is your child emotionally ready and are you? Eventually every child, teen and adult with a disability will have to interact with adults other than parents or caregivers. Summer can be the first such experience for some children, during which time a sense of self-confidence and independence is instilled.
It is important to know that just because a child has a disability, options for summer camp need not be limited to special programs. The Americans with Disabilities Act ensures your child’s right to be included in mainstream programs with reasonable accommodations. The fine for violating this law is $55, 000! Of course, you want your child in a program that can meet your child’s needs and abilities. When choosing a mainstream program, ask all the important questions to make sure it is an appropriate fit for your child.
To check on the quality of a program, ask parents who have children with similar disabilities about the camps they have utilized. Ask experts about their feedback from various camps. Ask the camp if they have a video to view. If at all possible visit the program the summer before you make your decision.
Making Ends Meet
Everyone needs a break! Parents and caregivers can be given much needed respite by sending a child to a quality summer program — but you don’t want to break the bank. Some camps cost over $10,000! Many camps offer scholarships and payment plans as well as sliding scale fees. There are various charities in the city that might be willing to assist you in paying for a summer program. You can search the Internet for “charities NYC” and you can also search for fraternal organizations such as Lions Clubs, Elks Clubs, Knights of Columbus, Knights of Pythias, and Rotary Clubs. These organizations often have a warm spot in their hearts for children with disabilities.
GARY SHULMAN, MS.Ed., of Resources for Children with Special Needs, Inc., can be reached at 212-677-4650 or www.resourcesnyc.org. The site includes a searchable database of all special needs camps. Resources for Children with Special Needs, Inc., is an information and advocacy organization helping parents and professionals find and obtain appropriate programs and services for NYC children with disabilities. They hold an annual Special Camp Fair to inform the community about summer programs that meet the needs of children with disabilities.
BROOKLYN CONSERVATORY OF MUSIC - MUSIC THERAPY PROGRAM
58 Seventh Avenue, Brooklyn
(718) 622-3300; www.bqcm.org
Serves ages 2 and up
238 Round Swamp Road, Melvill
(631) 367-1646 ext. 14 (camp phone); www.horseability.org
Serves ages 3 and up
EASTER SEALS NEW YORK - CAMP COLONIE
292 Washington Avenue, Albany
(518) 456-4880; www.eastersealsny.org
Serves ages 5-21
SLEEPAWAY CAMPS FOR ALL DISABILITIES
CAMP KALIKOW AT CUB WORLD - LEARNING FOR LIFE
Empire State Building, 350 Fifth Avenue, NYC
(212) 242-1100 or (212) 651-2911
Serves ages 7 and up
149 Front Street, Bath, ME
(207) 443-3341; www.pinetreesociety.org/camp_communicate.asp
Serves ages 8-14
CAMP ALLEN, INC.
56 Camp Allen Road, Bedford, NH
(603) 622-8471; www.campallennh.org
Serves ages 6 and up
141 South Main Street, Manville, NJ
(908) 753-4244 (camp); (908) 725-8544 (administrative); www.thearcofsomerset.org
Serves ages 5 and up
7531 County Route 13, Bath, NY
(607) 776-3737: www.giftsretreats.com
Serves up to age 18
PO Box 677, Center Moriches, NY
(631) 878-1070; www.camppaquatuck.org
Serves ages 6-21
NEW YORK SUMMER GET AWAY
PO Box 187, Springville, NY
(716) 592-4652; www.specialtouch.org
CAMP SUNRISE AT CAMP WARWICK
Po Box 349, Warwick, NY
(845) 986-1164; www.campwarwick.com
Serves ages 8-55
EAGLE SPRINGS PROGRAMS
58 Eagle Springs Lane, Pine Grove, PA
(570) 345-8705; www.eaglespringsprograms.com
Serves ages 18 and up