Selecting a camp for a child is often a difficult task, but it becomes even more arduous when your child has a learning and/or social concern. There are so many items to explore, so many questions to ask—with no clear path through the wilderness! However, you may find this task easier if you consider the following during your search:
- Clearly explore the mission and philosophy of each program you are considering to make sure it meets the needs of you and your child.
- Investigate how the program is structured and how the staff deliver their services to campers. How do they respond to children with extended responses who might require special handling? Are they pro-active or reactive? Are they flexible?
- Review the nature of the population served. Will other campers be similar to your child? Does the camp cater to children with a large range of issues, or do they specialize?
- Ask the camp about the opportunities for camper growth. What outcomes might you expect for your child?
- A camp should be a partner with their campers’ families. Systems for communication should be reasonable and meet your needs. They should be able to explain easily how they plan to facilitate communication and respond to questions. For example, many camps use the web to publish photos or send a newsletter.
- What are the management and support schemes that the camp uses, and are these in concert with your youngster’s needs and experiences? Are the interventions or systems easy to embrace and continue at home after camp?
- Be sure the intake or evaluation process is longer rather than shorter. Your child has some special needs and a good program wants to learn about them. Input may be gathered from your child’s school or counselors/therapists. If a camp only requires a few short forms, be careful.
- What are the credentials and experience of the staff—administrators as well as line staff? Ask about their staff training program and how many of their staff have worked with them previously.
- Camp is meant to be a great place for your child. You should ask them about the fun that goes on: special events, program content, and the energy level of the camp/program.
- Ask about their health support: who distributes medication, what is the overall staffing scheme, and how do they access a physician or emergency medical support?
- Ask about their licensure: what agencies authorize the program? Many camps choose to belong to the American Camp Association, an important credential that tells you they have gone through a complete review of program, philosophy, and management areas.
- If you are considering the program for the following year, ask if you may visit them while in operation this year.
- Be sure to speak with other families who have had children in their program. The camp should be prepared to give you the names of parents who would be willing to speak with you. A camp experience should be magical and special—certainly for your child, but also for the family. The program you ultimately chose needs to live up to its publicity and catalogs. The “product”—your child—is too important for you to settle for an inappropriate or poorly run camp. Happy hunting!
Eugene M. Bell, EdM is the Senior Director of Summit Camp and Travel, programs that support campers with learning disabilities, attention issues, Asperger Syndrome, and similar issues. He has been involved in special camping since 1979, after several years as a classroom special educator. He particularly enjoys being part of a solution instead of the problem! You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.