Gearing Up for Camp: A Primer for Parents of Children with Disabilities
by Margarita Solis, MSSA
There are hundreds of residential programs within the United States that provide opportunities for children of all ability levels to participate in a scope of outdoor and creative recreational, camp, and adventure activities. Choosing the best camp for your child to attend should be a serious endeavor and choosing a camp for a child with a disability should not be any different if the perspective is choosing the camp that will offer the greatest opportunities and will keep your child safe. This is not always an easy task, however there are many resources to support you this process.
The following illustrations are a culmination of real experiences and real examples. It illustrates the parent perspective, the process and experiences of a parent sending a child to camp.
Opening day of camp…the drive!
Have you got that Spirit…yeah man! That camp Spirit…yeah man…are words sung to a melody as we approach the camp welcome shelter. The parking lot is filled with accessible vans similar to ours. Staff neatly dressed in their cool blue camp t-shirts come to greet us and to help us navigate through opening day.
The Cabin Experience
Suitcases are being unpacked and a bunk has been selected. Cabins are accessible, clean and spacey for my daughter's new electric wheelchair. Bathrooms are supported with assistive devices as the counselors give us and the other families a grand tour. As I look back at my daughter, she has already made connections with her cabin mate. A feeling of great relief runs through me. I take some time to sit down with the counselors to go over the 10-page application with the five additional pages I added. We discussed unique ways to support my daughter both in describing her beautiful personality to demonstrating the best ways to support her physically, that is, how to transfer, charge her wheelchair, and ways to support her throughout her stay. I am impressed with the knowledge of the counselors. They seem to ask very solid questions based on my written notes on the application. I remember their names and asked them to ensure that my daughter sends a letter or two (or three or four) home while she is here. They assure me they will. We are unpacked…. time for the health center visit. As I leave the cabin I notice there are five staff and eight campers in a cabin almost a 1:2 ratio…good!
The Health Center
Two days later…
A letter comes from camp:
Today it is raining and so we are in the cabin writing letters, coloring, and making friendship bracelets. I am giving mine to my counselor Sarah because she is really nice. I went swimming today in the pool, they put me in an inner tube and played relay games in the pool. Sarah helped me get in the pool and stayed with me the whole time. We also went horseback riding. Mom, I want to do this when I get home…the horses are so cool! We got to brush the horses, take care of them, and then we got to ride them. My horse was named Casper. I was scared at first but Sarah helped me get on. The food here is good mom but they don't let us have candy in the cabins but we are having a cabin slumber party tonight and I hear there will be birthday cake for Mary. Her bunk is next to mine. Mary and I shared the bow we used for bow and arrows (archery). I think Mary likes Joe who is in Beech cabin
Tomorrow we are going on a campout where we will be going through the trails, putting up a tent, cooking our own food, and cooking s'mores!! I can't wait! I also signed up to climb a tree Mom! I never climbed a tree before Mom…I hope we don't get rained out!
Well Mom I have to go…the sun is coming up and we are going to the beach for a canoe ride. Sarah wants me to get ready. Tell Daddy I said hi and Muffy too.
Two weeks later…
We enter the cabin, and my daughter and I embrace. She is fully packed and ready to go. She looks good with a little bit of a tan and a mosquito bite or two. She shows me all the arts and crafts she has made and gives me one she made especially for me. The counselors sit with us to evaluate the experience and they give me a descriptive activity report listing all the activities she enjoyed during her two weeks. Also, reports on any incidents were also indicated. Sarah said she had a time or two of homesickness but that this is perfectly normal for the first time camper. Next year she will be a veteran.
The two-hour drive home was filled with two weeks of stories. I reflect on the parent duality complex and am comforted by the next step towards independence my daughter gained. I think I will research horseback programs we can do together.
What to look for in camps
- Visit the camp and talk with the Camp Director to discover the philosophy of the camp especially if your child has a disability. What is their approach in including all children in activities?
- Know the staff to camper ratio.
- Learn about the ways staff are trained and the policies that guide their behavior. Understand the standards that the camp must follow. Many camps are endorsed and certified by the American Camping Association (www.acacamps.org). The ACA annually publishes a parents guide to accredited camps…. a good place to start.
- What activities are offered? How will your child be included in those activities? Assess the accessibility of facilities What type of medical support is provided at camp?
- What are the appropriate ways to communicate to camp staff to get progress reports on your child?
Camp residential experiences for children offer great opportunities to strengthen social relationships, develop skills, and gain independent experiences. To learn more about these camps consider the following resources:
Bradford Woods Outdoor and Leadership Center
5020 State Road 67 North
Martinsville, IN 46151
(765) 342-2915 (voice or tty)
The citation for this article is:
Solis, M. Gearing up for camp: a primer for parents of children with disabilities. Bloomington, IN: National Center on Accessibility, Indiana University-Bloomington. Retrieved from www.ncaonline.org