Sunday, May 16, 2010

Guest Post: Finding Summer Activites for Your Special Needs Child

Information from a JSSA news release I thought I'd pass on to you. —Jean

Research Widely, and Ask Lots of Questions: Tips for Seeking Summer Activities for Your Special Needs Child

by Jamell White, Clinical Director, JSSA

Guiding and supporting your special needs child throughout the school year can be challenging, but finding fun and appropriate activities for the summer vacation weeks can be just as tough for some parents. Selecting the right programs that are also convenient, affordable and amenable to working with your child’s needs may take some research.

Whatever type of program you are looking for, be sure to research widely, following up on ideas from teachers, therapists, friends, and neighbors, and getting feedback on programs from social networking groups for parents of children with disabilities. You may be surprised at how many program options you can find when you search for programs at camp fairs, county recreation departments, community centers, private schools, and the many private providers of activities in the arts, sports, outdoors, travel, science, technology and more.

JSSA (Jewish Social Service Agency), a nonprofit, nonsectarian community agency, partners with other organizations to provide day camps—Camp Shalom in Fairfax County and BFF (Building and Fostering Friendships) Camp in Montgomery County. Both teach social skills within a fun, recreational environment for children of all faiths with learning disabilities, ADHD and Asperger’s Syndrome.

Depending on your child’s age and interests, you may also want to look for choices beyond the Washington area. A variety of sleep-away camps provide a supportive environment for children with special needs. Two to consider are Summit Camp in Pennsylvania, whose campers have ADHD, Asperger’s Syndrome, learning disabilities and social skill needs, and Kamp A-Kom-Plish, an inclusive camp in southern Maryland whose campers include those with developmental and physical disabilities.

Remember that much of the information you may need to evaluate camps and activities for your individual child isn’t found on websites or in brochures. Supplement those resources with direct inquiries by phone or email so you can introduce your child’s specific needs to the program’s organizers and discuss important concerns.

Questions like these may help you zero in on whether a program is a good match for your son or daughter:

Philosophy and Staffing

• What is the camp’s philosophy on serving children with different abilities? Do they modify activities so all children can participate?

•How much supervision is offered? What background or experience do the staff have in working with a child like yours? Does the camp provide its own special needs training?

• Is the camp willing to work with you to learn how to give your child the necessary support?

• Is the camp open to you hiring an aide to help your child if the camp is unable to provide one?

• Can parents communicate with the staff to get updates on the child’s experiences?

• Is there a nurse on staff for children taking medications or who have medical issues?


• What facilities does the camp have? Are they accessible to children with physical disabilities?

• Is there a place to cool off if the weather gets too hot?


• How long do individual activities last, and how many transitions do the children make during the day?

• How many community outings or out-of-camp field trips are offered? How long do they last?

• If these outings aren’t appropriate for your child, what other activities can they participate in?

• Do children make their own choices of activities, or do they move with a group from one assigned activity to another?

• How much time is spent outdoors and indoors?

With plenty of research and an understanding of what each program offers, you will likely feel more comfortable choosing summer activities for your child that are fun while also building the confidence, self-esteem, and social skills so important to all children, particularly those with special needs.

Jamell White, LCSW-C is clinical director of special needs and deaf services at JSSA. For more information about JSSA’s broad range of programs and services for children, teens and young adults, please visit