Friday, May 25, 2012

Camps for kids with special needs: Max is doing two!

Max's summer plans are set: He's returning to the one-week camp for kids with special needs that he went to last year, and loved. I'm particularly excited about the inclusive day camp he'll also be attending. He's going to miss two weeks of his school summer program, but Dave and I decided it was worth it—both for the inclusionary experience and for fun.

I was so psyched to find this program, because they're rare. While it's possible to work out an arrangement with a local day camp, several told me I'd need provide the aide and I wasn't sure I could find someone great. A couple of times, the fact that Max isn't full potty-trained was non-negotiable. This camp provides a "shadow" who will help with caregiving and keep an eye on Max, but she'll seem like just another counselor to other kids. This camp is really bent on making sure kids with special needs seamlessly fit in.

I got to meet Max's shadow this week at a pre-camp meeting. She's a college sophomore studying neuroscience who has childcare experience, and she seemed all kinds of awesome. I gave her the rundown on Max's likes and dislikes, gushed about how social he is, promised her she'd fall in love with him. I've already asked the director I can also shadow/spy on Max at some point when he's there; I'm so eager to see how things are going to go.

At the meeting, all parents were asked to fill out a "Hopes and Dreams" sheet. I wrote, "Max has never participated in an inclusive program before. What I most want is for him to have fun playing with other kids, interact with them and communicate with them—and for them to do it right back."

Below, some resources for finding local camps for kids with special needs. There might still be spots open but if not, at least you can scout ones for next summer.

Very Special Camps lists camps and programs for people with special needs around the country; you can browse by disability or by state. also lists camps by state and specifies the types of disabilities accommodated.

My Summer Camps lists camps by disability, which you can then filter by state.

Easter Seals Disability Services has 140 accessible camps around the country—for adults, too.

Family Village has a lengthy list of camps and programs nationwide.

Therapy/Respite Camps for Kids has a list divvied up by region.

Cristo Vive International provides camp programs for children with disabilities around the world; there are a few locations in this country.

Foundation For Jewish Camp has a list of camps for Jewish children with special needs.

Photo/Peter Blanchard


  1. Be careful of the "she'll seem like just a counselor to the other kids." No. She won't. Max is 9, correct? 9 year olds will pick up on her role in 2 seconds. And if there was anything that 9 year olds can't stand it's the feeling that they are being "lied to."

    My children attend a super inclusive school. The one thing that set the kids off was this. My older daughters third grade class, engaged in a somewhat icky "game" of trying to out the aid who was supposedly there for the 'whole class' but was obvioulsy there for one person. No one can be more self rightous than 9 year olds and the idea that someone was attempting to pull the whool over their eyes did not bring out their best instincts.

    Last year when my duaghter was a counselor at a camp there was the same kind of thing and again, the kids just resented it and as a by product seemed to resent the lovely child with special needs in her group. Finally, the counselors sat down with camp administration and decided the best thing was to "fess up" to the kids. It changed everything and the kids went out of their way to be more inclusive themselves.

  2. Annie, I hear you but I don't think there is a purposeful attempt to pull the wool over anyone's eyes. Other counselors will be helping Max, too—his shadow will be helping a little more.

    I very much appreciate this approach. There's not going to be a "Look! We have a kid with special needs!" announcement. The kids will see that for themselves, and I trust that this camp will help smooth the transition. I'm optimistic like that!

  3. So glad to see this post! I've been searching but haven't found any inclusive programs in my area. I hope these links help. Thanks!!

  4. I think Max will have a great time! I hope he enjoys himself--take a few pics while you are sneaking around following him! Will Sabrina be camping at the same time, as well? And how about Ellen and Dave camp? Hee hee!!

  5. Also check out

    It is in MD.

    It is an awesome camp (I work there so ... shameless plug....maybe)

    It is about 50% children with special needs and 50% typical. Potty trained or not. Verbal or not.

    Really, it is an awesome camp :)

  6. Felicia, Ellen & Dave camp = sending Sabrina out for a sleepover one night during the week when Max is away at camp and having the house to ourselves! WHEEEEEEEEE!!!!

    Annie G, hope you find a good camp.

    Karah, thanks for the recommendation.

    Have a great long weekend, all!

  7. Hi Ellen:

    I think that this sounds wonderful! I have a close friend who worked as a camp counselor for elementary school kids for the summer (she's a teacher), and she works with many special needs kids. As long as Max isn't being treated incredibly "better" than the other kids, I'm sure everything will be fine! (My friend had an experience last summer with a little girl who had no disability per se, but serious behavioral issues. They gave her a sticker chart for good behavior and constant rewards, which the other kids noticed and became very angry about. Kids have a serious sense of fairness and they were angry that they weren't getting candy and trinkets, too.)

    I'm really glad that you were able to find such awesome programs for your son. I think inclusion is great for all kids, typical and with disabilities.

  8. Lidnesy my ten year old daughter with Down Syndrome is going to camp this summer for the 1st time! She will be going to a Clay camp for 3 hours a day for 1 week.She is the only special needs child enrolled.The group size is small 10 kids max and the instructor who will be with Lidnesy's group and the derictor both took a workshop held by ACA about Campers with Special Needs.She cant wait.

  9. my son is 6, and I have to ask- are you freaking at the thought of sleepaway camp? I cant imagine.

  10. Having tried a mainstream camp for our son with not-so-great results, we have chosen a program that serves high-functioning kids just like him. He is looking forward to it nearly as much as we are...although I anticipate he will get anxious in the days leading up to his departure. From the literature and the phone communication, the camp seems to really get kids like Ben...and that makes us feel confidant about our choice to send him for 4 weeks.

  11. Having a hearing loss I am aware of the whole camp thing for kids with special needs.I attemped to go to Girl Scout Day Camp when I was 8 but it did not work.My hearing loss was called upon and noone interacted with me.(suprising of girl scouts)The consuler was no help either, I could never hear her.I went for a day then dropped out.That was the end of my camp experince for a while.It truley disgusts me now that a camp could not accomadate such a mild special need.When I was 11(3 years ago) I wanted to go to a camp for kids who are hard of hearing/deaf.Now that makes scince because I was just then taking ownership of my disablity and accepting it.(I think being bullied for it is what took me so long to accept it) Anyway I went to Camp Iso Bella in CT loved ity and have gone back every summer.The kind of funny thing is one of my cabin mates last year Syliva is now at my school.Can't wait for this summer!This summer I am also taking a pottery camp for 1 is a day camp and will be my first time at a "typical" camp scince the GS disater.I am nervous yet so excited because I love pottery

  12. Ellen, please update and repost in January so families can get an early jump on this :-)

  13. Ellen. I am sure Max will have a great time. The problem we saw was when someone who was introduced as just another counselor was unavailable to the other kids. Thats what made the kids think the camp wasn't being straight with them. My guess though is that this is more a problem when youve got a group of girls then she you've got a group of boys. Boys don't seem to care about this stuff.

  14. I have found sucess with the inclusion camp Camp Greenwell at greenwell State Park in Hollywood,MD. It is a coed day camp for ages 5-12 or those who are entering 1st-7th grade in the fall. Abigail is 12 and this will be her last summer at Greenwell.Allison is 10,has autism and is back for her 4th summer.Arianna is 8 , has cererbal pasly and is exiceted for her 2nd summer at Greenwell.

  15. Love hearing about your camp recommendations; I hope they help others. Kathryn, pottery camp sounds AWESOME! Sign me up, too!

    Peggy, I will update in january.

    Annie, I agree, boys in general seemed less tuned in to this sort of thing than girls do.

    And Anon, Max went to the sleepaway camp last year for a week. Yes, I was freaked and kept calling and calling to make sure he was OK. He was more than OK, he had an incredible time—and didn't want to leave.

  16. How exciting for all of you - I think you have hit on a great combo. Hope it all goes well.

  17. This is wonderful!

    Check out this list too:

  18. I'll be volunteering at the Easter Seals camp in August in Maine! So excited to see that there are other organizations who do camps for kids with special needs!

  19. Sarh my 12 year old daughter with autism is going to JCC Maccabi camp Kingswood's special needs program Zohar it is a fully intergrated program for kids 10-18 with autism,CP,Down Syndrome and devolpmental delays.This will be Sarah's 2nd year at camp.My 16 year old son Matt is going for his last summer this year. Intergration at its best!

  20. I am also going to be an inclusion CIT at the local playground camp.Last summer the new mayor whose daughter has PDD ordered that there was an inclusion program for kids with special needs at the village run camp. Last summer there were 17 kids with special needs ranging in age from 5 to 11,4 consulers decatied to them and 4 CITs(teens) that worked with just them. It was so much fun and the inclusion aspect rocked.When age group actitves were taking palce the kids went to their age groups. They went on all the feild trips.It was great.So happy to do it again.


Thanks for sharing!

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