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I had a blast this summer!

Evaluating summer special needs programs

Summertime can present a challenge to parents seeking organized activities for their kids. The parents of special needs children have an even greater task in finding suitable day programs. Parents need to decide if they require a day camp designed for special needs kids or if attending a regular camp that can accommodate their child may be an option.


Potentially, any day camp could be a possibility, depending on the programs it offers as well as the needs of the child. For example, Girl Scouts Heart of the Hudson, Inc. has had special needs children in its day camp programs when it had the staff who could serve those children well.


Networking, agencies and the internet


Networking with other parents of special needs children can be a way to find a camp, as well as gain a personal perspective on a child’s experience at that camp. Another resource is the special needs directory at hvparent.com. The agencies and organizations listed serve the special needs community and may have information about summer programs.

Questions, questions and more questions!


Parents should also check the New York State Office of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities website. The site has a search feature useful in finding services provided. Contacting agencies and organizations that cater to a specific special need such as autism or cerebral palsy, could lead to programs or referrals. SullivanArc, a not-for-profit agency that provides support and services to over 800 individuals with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities, offers a summer vacation respite program during two one-week periods at the beginning and end of the summer. Kids do arts and craft, sports, and the magic paintbrush project. They also go on outings to places like museums and zoos, among other activities.




Another option is day camp programs where a child could be mainstreamed. This requires asking the question of the camp and explaining a child’s needs. Depending on the experience level of their staff and the activities of the camp, some will be able to accommodate a child with special needs.


For example, the Warwick center operates Camp Sunrise for a variety of special needs children. However, special needs children are sometimes included in other day camp programs run by the center. “Some of our inclusion has been individual families where they want to see their children mainstreamed and interacting with mainstreamed children,” said youth programs director Scott Cherry. In these cases, camp staff has helped to ensure proper supervision and staff-to-camper ratio. While it’s not the norm, in some cases the organization can make it possible.


To find camps that might accommodate special needs children, parents can visit hvparent.com and click on the “Guides” tab to see the Virtual Camp Fair, which gives a listing of camps in the region. Another resource is campparents.org, a site of the American Camping Association that has a search feature. After narrowing down possibilities by geographic area and type of programs, a parent could call and ask if the camp can serve a child with special needs.


Freelance writer Joanne McFadden lives in Saratoga County, New York.

Make sure you research the camp that fits your needs.