Camps for Special Needs Kids



Summer is a great time of year. The kids are off from school for an extended block of time so families have more opportunities to spend quality time together. But summer, with its lack of structure and scheduling, is also a time when kids grow bored, and parents end up needing a break from their children.

Summer camp is one way for children to relieve themselves of boredom and for them to make new friends, develop their senses of freedom, increase their levels of physical activity and learn new skills. Camp also provides a place for self-discovery, a way to gain independence, and plenty of opportunities to practice those problem-solving skills. 

Camps come in a variety of lengths (number of hours or number of days), plus can be day camps, where kids get dropped off and picked up daily just like at school, or sleep-away camps. Camps are also available for a variety of interests and levels of ability. Some camps specialize in children with autism spectrum disorder or ADHD, or ones who have been abused, or ones who have medical conditions like cancer, hemophilia, muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, hearing or speech impairments or other serious conditions. Other camps, called inclusionary camps, are for children of any abilities or with any conditions.

If you have a special needs child, only you and the child understand what type of environment and camp would be best for him or her. But some possibilities include:

  1. Horse Camps. Horse camps can be day or overnight. Campers practice their riding skills (including adaptive riding, if necessary) in either Western or English style, and often at the end of a camp everyone participates in a horse show. Certain camps offer equine-assisted therapy, also.
  2. Sports Camps. Sports camps exist for almost every sport (archery, soccer, football, baseball, basketball, cheerleading, for examples) so campers can learn new skills and practice. Other sports camps are more general and based on a series of sports, such as snow sports (skiing, boarding, sled hockey and snowshoeing in the Rocky Mountains) or a variety water sports.
  3. Traditional Overnight Camps. Traditional camps often have bonfires, marshmallow roasting, swimming, canoeing, crafts, horseback riding, sing-a-longs, wilderness exploration and other fun activities. Some camps offer adapted activities based on the child’s needs and abilities. 
  4. Technology Camps. Summer technology camps can be a week in length or longer, residential or day camps. Some of geared primarily to girls, others are co-ed. Technology camps may have a focus on coding, games or drones. 
  5. Arts and Performance Camps.  A proliferation of camps exist to expose children to dance, acting, music, visual or fine arts and cooking/baking—basically any kind of creative arts. Certain ballet and dance classes are geared towards kids in wheelchairs; others are inclusive.

The Americans with Disability Act (ADA) website has a section on its website about how the ADA applies to camps (for example, requirements involving pools at camps and service animals) at https://www.acacamps.org/about/who-we-are/public-policy/americans-disabilities-act-ada-applicability-camps. And the American Camp Association’s website is searchable if you want to look for accredited day or overnight camps. Their database is searchable by the parameters of: location, activities, affiliation (culture and/or religion), disabilities or special populations, waterfront, camper age or gender, session dates or duration and cost.

Speaking of costs, some camps are tuition-free for children with special situations or needs. And almost every camp offers either scholarships or a payment plan, as most camp directors that Pittsburgh Parent has talked to believe that camp should be accessible to every child who wants to participate.

Buzz Aldrin once said, “Maybe it was the challenge of flight, the opportunity to fly, the competition of summer camp and the inspiration and discipline of West Point. I think all of those things helped me to develop a dedication and inspired me to get ahead.” Maybe some day, after she has grown and matured, your child will credit summer camp, and the problem solving skills she learned there and the lifelong friendships she made, for part of the success she achieves in life.

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