Children With Special Needs Flourish At Camp


There’s something almost hard-wired about human beings: When we repeatedly see the extraordinary, it becomes ordinary. That may be true, except when it comes to the thousands of children who exhibit such great courage and desire when they attend summer camp.

During the days and weeks at camp, children who are far too often described as “special needs” get to become just kids. Yes, often there are parents and counselors holding their collective breath until there’s that first splash in the pool or the swaying walk of a patient horse, but they relax and smile when they see the sense of pride and joy on a child’s face. These children may have come a long way to get to camp — sometimes in the literal sense — but, regardless of how long the journey, the value of camp is defined by the experience not these children’s special needs.

Parents often wonder what might take place at camp. They question if the activities will be camper-friendly and adapted to children’s special needs and abilities I encourage parents to spend just an hour at a camp to understand what makes these kids and the staff so extraordinary. Watching the children and youth experience the joys of friendship, the thrill of adventure, and the pride of accomplishment on a daily basis is exactly what makes camp so important and so necessary. Camp is a community where all children get to be children first — regardless of their abilities or their limitations.

Camp is a place of acceptance, where kids find other young people whose experiences may be similar. It’s about growing up, forming friendships, taking healthy risks, and enjoying the outdoors. Whether the experience comes at day camp or overnight camp, when a camp focuses on the needs of a special population, children find a place to be themselves, grow and transform the word “able” into “able to succeed.”

Wherever those special camps are for families, staffs and counselors have been preparing all year to assure children have the times of their lives — every summer and for the summers that follow. And for nearly 100 years, the American Camp Association has supported the professional development of those who serve these young people as they join the millions of other children at thousands of camps across the country.

Many “firsts” await children and families looking for just the right camp. It could be the taste of independence, the chance to sing a song around a campfire, or the opportunity to take that horseback ride of their dreams. For families, it may be the peace of mind knowing their children are experiencing these activities in a safe and healthy environment … and finally having a summer they’ll remember forever.