Summer camps for special needs children can broaden their worldview by exposing them to other children, animals, sports and activities.
In fact, many times, these summer camps can also expose kids without special needs to special needs children—expanding their worldview, too.
Tatiana Terdal has enrolled her two autistic boys in many different kinds of summer camps, including rock climbing, theater, bicycle and nature programs. In some cases, her sons attended camps specifically for special needs kids, while in other instances, camps made special arrangements for her sons by providing an inclusion specialist to help them make the most of their experience.
Here are some of the benefits of summer camps for special needs children:
Camps offer a great opportunity for special needs children to expand their social skills. While camps can provide a comparable social structure to the school setting, it's often more fun and engaging for kids to be at camp rather than in school. Shy children might be so engaged that they come out of their shells. Kids who have a hard time making friends may bond with kids with similar disabilities. In addition, many camps for special needs kids have support staff specifically trained to help them get out of their comfort zones and try new activities.
All kids benefit emotionally and physically when they're outdoors and running around. But special needs kids can't always take part in sports teams or gym class, which is why summer camps can be so enriching for them. Many camps provide specific accommodations and activities that allow them to be more physical.
For example, some camps have programs like "Lose the Training Wheels," during which special needs kids learn how to ride bikes. They take these skills home and continue to realize the benefits of riding bikes in their everyday lives. Other camps teach kids how to play team sports like baseball, and provide wheelchair accessibility and non-disabled helpers. They offer all the support needed to ensure kids have a positive experience.
Nature camps allow children to get their bodies moving by gathering leaves, taking walks, and climbing trees. This is a big plus for children from urban areas who wouldn't otherwise get that kind of outdoor experience. In any of these camps, kids are experiencing the health benefits and good feelings associated with moving their bodies and being outdoors.
In some cases, summer camps blend other kids with special needs children in ways that showcase their knowledge and unique abilities.
One example is the Autism Service Dogs of America (ASDA) summer camp, which is made up of three-quarters "neuro-typical" kids and one quarter autistic kids, according to Michele Babaie, whose autistic son, Andrew, attended the camp. Campers play in parks, go to the movies, bowl, and splash in fountains and lakes with their assigned dog. The autistic children know all about the service dogs and get the opportunity to share their knowledge with other kids and demonstrate how to handle them.
"The autistic kids were the stars of the show," Babaie says. "The camp helped bridge the gap between typically developing kids and autistic kids. The other kids learned about the difficulties autistic kids face and how dogs assist them."
If children attend the same camps every summer, they get to see how much they've progressed. Terdal says that her kids no longer need helpers or aids at some of the camps they attend, and their awareness of that fact improves their confidence.
Summer camps offer special needs kids many of the opportunities they offer any child: The opportunity to sing songs around a campfire, learn teamwork, enjoy nature, and most of all, make new friends. Such experiences boost kids' confidence and create happy memories that will stay with them throughout their lives.
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Find summer camps near you.