Guest Author - Bonnie Sayers
Here in Los Angeles there are local parenting magazines that publish monthly with their annual camp guide listing. Exceptional Parent magazine lists camp details pertaining to many disabilities, special needs and illnesses. There are numerous groups under yahoo that are geared toward the special needs community. Here parents will share experiences and discuss what options are available for their children. You can begin a search at Yahoo groups. At any of these locations you might benefit from past experiences and learn which camps to avoid or enroll your child in.
One such group that lists summer camps in their resource section and covers a multitude of disabilities is Homeschooling Extraordinary Kids. I have no experience with this group, but noticed they are active and started in 2004. Please do be cautious of joining any group that has public archives.
In the State of California they have twenty-one regional centers that serve individuals with or at risk for, developmental disabilities. They are private non-profits that work under contract with the State Government. There are a number of disabilities they cover including Mental Retardation, Cerebral Palsy, Autism and Epilepsy. The Directory of the Regional Center system according to the county you reside in.
More than likely the Regional Center would either fund the camp, reimburse you or pay a portion of the cost. Each week the coordinators submit proposals for funding, and by the next business day you will know if your request has been approved. It might help to know which day the Regional Center does the funding so your request will get there prior to that business day. Over the past four years that my children have been attending summer daycamp the Regional Center has funded the entire camp at a cost the first year of $1200; past years they only paid for three weeks since ESY was available for the other three weeks and this year we received a scholarship through an organization entitled, The Achievable Foundation. Other funding through the actual C.A.M.P. was with the Tournament of Roses Parade and The Dan Marino Foundation. Parents are asked to send a letter thanking for the assistance.
For those who reside in the State of New Jersey there is an organization there called COSAC, The New Jersey Center for Outreach & Services for the Autism Community, Inc. They have a directory that includes every state with numbers to get services for disabilities. There is also a guide for schools and camps for the State of New Jersey and upon request can send for other states as well. The toll-free number for residents of New Jersey is 1-800-4-AUTISM, and outside the state is 1-609-883-8100.
When choosing a camp for a child who has autism or other special needs - you will find many that are for all disabilities or based on the specific disability the child has. There is an age requirement usually beginning at five or six plus the child must be toilet trained. When I first made inquiries both my children were still in diapers but I was able to get on the waiting list since they were in the age group.
The class size and teacher to child ratio changes as the children get older so for the six-year olds they might have more assistants in their class than the ten-year olds. If your child needs special apparatus to function in a classroom that would have to be taken into consideration. Are medications going to be dispensed and who is qualified to handle this task. Are meals or snacks provided and what is the time frame for serving breakfast or lunch.
For many children with disabilities and/or special needs they need consistency so keeping the same schedule as they do in the home or regular school is important to adhere to. For a child with special needs many are in Special Education and have an IEP (Individual Education Plan). At their camp I fill out goals for social, math, pre-academic and other areas for the camp to work on for the six-weeks that camp is in session. You can implement the same goals listed in the IEP to get a jump on the summer for maintaining consistency. We also have year-round schools with the summer consisting of only three weeks of intersession. I decided the six-week camp session was beneficial to maintaining his skills acquired during the school year.
Since lunch is not provided I inquired as to what other kids have brought in the past and the Director gave me some ideas on what to pack plus there is a refrigerator and microwave. I prefer to bring lunchables and yogurt or sandwiches as opposed to having another person microwave something and assist my children with their lunch.
Depending on the speech skills of the child there are other forms of communication that can be utilized and this classroom they are in for the camp session has the cards listed under each campers name outlining the day. There was a open house the day before camp started to meet the teacher and assistants plus see the classroom and how the day is categorized.
The hours of the camp also should be taken into consideration. The camp is for six hours a day from 8:45 - 2:45. It was originally at 9-3, but has changed over the years. They also have after camp childcare to help parents that get out of work later. This is an additional cost not included with camp.
Another resource to look for camps for children with disabilities is the American Camping Association. Two more locations to find camp listings would be kids camps and Arizona Central. An additional camp resource in the Southern California area is the Jay Nolan Camp. This camp involves children with disabilities and typical peers. It is a residential camp with two sessions, each consisting of one week.
I made a list of the pros and cons for this camp and even though there is the added cost of gasoline in driving as well as purchasing food for lunch I felt the benefits outweighed these two financial obstacles. It might be too late now for a child to be enrolled in a summer camp but you can still check into them and ask parents about the experiences and apply for the waiting list.
Other camp resources - Camp Awareness in Indiana, Autism Camp Search USA and Canada, Autism Retreat in Oregon, Autism residential & day camps, Vanderbilt Autism Camp/Clay Aiken Foundation and Kris'Camp with locations in Florida, California, Connecticut and Arizona. Tailsman Summer Camps
It is worth checking these out to help prepare for next year and possibly get on waiting lists and do some fundraising to prepare for future years.
A related camp article recaps the questions to ask when inquiring about a camp. A review of the CAMP, Children with Autism Making Progress my autistic children have been attending.
Portions of this article were previously published on Epinions.
Autism Society of the Panhandle Camp - this is in Florida, serving Escambia and Santa Rosa
Camp Bridge - this is in NJ for ages 4-13
Camp ReCreation, Weekend Getaway, & ACE - Orange County, CA. Camp runs weekend summer camp for kids 6-17, weeklong summer camp for adults and two annual weekend slumber parties for returning ReCreation campers and volunteers. There is a small wait list and camp is fully funded by Catholic Charities. Camp dates for 2009 and 2010 are online.
Film camp gets kids with autism to form teams - Chicago ABC news, August 13, 2008
Autistic Asians get a window of opportunity - Mercury News, Silicon Valley - August 13, 2008
Jay Nolan Camp
Frontier Travel Camp
American Camping Association
Camp Awe Sum
Questions relating to toilet training at school
Educational Autism Tips for Families 71 page resourceful ebook for families entering the school system with a recent autism diagnosis. Find out what issues take place over the course of a school day and meet these challenges head on.