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Children With Special Needs Can Enjoy Summer Camp Too

Summer is here again, and you might be wondering what fun activities you can get your child with special needs involved in. Depending on the level of your child’s abilities, you might consider sending him or her to the local seasonal camp at the nearby park. Many cities have parks and recreation departments that offer affordable camps and activities for the children in the community during spring and summer. And yes, there are a number of camps designed especially for children with speech, academic and physical delays, which can provide a great experience for your child. On the other hand, you may prefer to get your child involved in an activity with typical children, as my son experienced.

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This summer we’ve been fortunate and have stumbled upon a city-sponsored summer camp for the kids in the community. My ex-husband enrolled our son, thinking, “Let’s just try and see if it can work for him. If it isn’t successful, we’ll take him out immediately.” Our son is also very mobile, active, and functioning, and he happens to have Down syndrome. Although he does not match his typical 7-year-old peers in his development, he is progressing very well and able to easily keep up the pace in some sports and activities. His biggest challenge is his communication skills — he has difficulty speaking intelligibly, which often causes him frustration, and leads to his acting out.

My son’s father had to remind me to take our son to camp on the first day because I had forgotten — I clearly was resisting the idea of taking him to an environment that wasn’t designed for kids with special needs. The thought of my son having even a difficult few hours trying to fit in with kids who might tease or ignore him because of his delays had me in tears. His father suggested that I just try for one day and decide afterward.

There is nothing more heartwarming than seeing my son interacting with kids who are typical in the way that all children do.

When we arrived at the camp, the director was friendly. I asked if I could speak with her alone to ask some questions and talk about my son’s needs. When I started telling her that my son has Down and might have difficulties with some things, she whipped out her cell phone to show me a picture of her son. “My son also has Down, and if he were as high functioning as your boy, he’d be here too,” she said. I cried again, but this time with joy.

The director of the camp gave me an application to request a “one-to-one” for our son. A one-to-one is someone assigned exclusively to be with a child and to help him when he is having difficulties. The aide will generally stand at a short distance, allowing our son the opportunity to use his tools to navigate relationships with other children in the camp. However, when he is having trouble or simply misbehaving, the one-to-one will intervene on our son’s behalf, helping him learn a new way to handle challenges.

Not only does having a one-to-one give special needs children the opportunity to be in environments that foster mainstreaming, it also allows typical children and adults the opportunity to be with people who have different needs and abilities. There is nothing more heartwarming than seeing my son interacting with kids who are typical in the way that all children do.

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One of the most important components of my child’s and my journey is community. Maybe this year, before you send your child to a camp designed exclusively for children with special needs, you’ll check your local park’s offerings for typical children and see if there is a way your child can participate. You might be surprised, like I was, that the organization was prepared for both children who are typical and for those who might have varying degrees of special needs. It’s worth a try, and if your local camp can’t accommodate your child now, you can help them get ready for next summer.

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