Summer has arrived and camps are opening their doors to children across the country. Parents of special needs children, such as those with autism or a spectrum disorder, often wonder if they should send their children to a summer camp. There are endless worries about whether or not their children will be able to handle the change in structure, new environment and initial strangers. Will my child just be sent home? Is it worth it? Will they even have a good time? In short, there are a variety of summer camp offerings designed specifically for special needs children, and yes, attendees have amazing times! Campers are so positively impacted that they often request to return summer after summer, which is the best value testament. Summer camps for special needs children are built around children just like yours, with highly trained staff, engaging and accommodating activities, and decades of experience to guide them in forming a truly remarkable experience for campers. Children are rarely sent home from special needs camps, as opposed to their mainstream camp counterparts, due to their unique design and skilled personnel. Included below are four benefits of summer camps for special needs children.
Social Skill Building – Special needs children do not often get the opportunity to experience social engagements the way “neurotypical” children do. They may struggle making friends due to a lack of understanding about social interactions, difficulty envisioning how the other person in an interaction may think or feel, and/or anxiety surrounding social engagements. Such children may then only have a few, if any, friends and may feel left out of typical childhood experiences. They may not be asked to birthday parties, encouraged to participate in games at recess, or included in group activities. As a result, children with special needs may be lacking confidence. Summer camps for children with special needs address these core issues by providing a safe environment where those with similar abilities are able to engage in activities together, creating ties and friendships through new shared experiences. Children are able to practice following social cues and both initiating and responding in real-life situations, not just reading about them or working with aids during school.
Active, Healthy Outdoor Activities – We can all benefit from exercise and fresh air, however this can be exceedingly true for children with special needs. As noted above, special needs children may not be able to engage in traditional games or may not be included due to poor social relationships with peers at school or in the community. At a special needs summer camp, children are engaged in outdoor activities by highly trained staff who encourage them every step of the way, modifying as needed based on the children’s abilities. Special needs youth will find themselves completing new activities they never thought possible, such as completing nature hikes, sporting events, learning to navigate a river or lake on a kayak, and gathering around a campfire with fellow campers. Often, children diagnosed with an ASD resort to electronic devices to occupy their time and calm anxieties. Camp offers youth the opportunity to engage without their devices – a first for many and a positive step in the eyes of many parents.
Increased Confidence – Children gain confidence by completing new activities, including attending camp itself! Parents often are stunned to see their children smiling, engaging with peers, and returning home with more confidence in abilities than they may have seen previously. Children may be interested in continuing healthy outdoor activities when they return home and parents may have more success implementing rules surrounding screen time or other electronic device moderating after camp is completed due to the increased skillsets and resulting confidence campers obtain.
A Break for Both Children and Parents – Let’s face it, parenting is plain out tough. Parenting special needs children can be even more challenging and consequently exhausting. Children can sense when their parents are burnt out and can benefit from a break just as parents can enjoy some time away from the day to day challenges of family life with a special needs child. Camp can provide just that for both children and parents. Campers get the opportunity to make new friends and engage with trained staff who they can grow to respect and trust while parents have a chance to take a breather and reset for when their children return home. Both parents and children can come back together after camp feeling refreshed and invigorated!