Camp can be a break for mom or dad.

Every year summer sneaks up on me. For real. I do not know how, but it always does. It’s like I have my head down and am so focused on finishing the school year well that summer is here before I know it.

One thing I do not enjoy about summer is being a Cruise Director. Know what I mean? I do not have the energy to set up play dates, fun activities and adventures every day for my 9 year old son. Yes, we live at the beach, but if you have ever tried to go to the beach with a toddler you will know that you need a pack horse just to go for an hour of “fun.”

Summer camps can be a fantastic way for you to breathe, your child to grow and for your sumner to go a little bit smoother.

WAIT! Did she just write that my kid should go to a summer camp? Doesn’t she know that my kid has autism? My kid has ADHD? “No, summer camps are not for MY kid! Too much lack of structure. Too many variables to make a summer camp possible for MY kid,” you’re probably thinking.

Hear me out.  Not all summer camps are made for neurotypcial kids. Some are, some aren’t and some — with a little help — can be modified to meet your kiddos needs.

Let me start by saying that I was raised by a fantastic mom that made sure I understood that all kids were cool. By the time I was five, I had a friend with Cerebral Palsy. She was beautiful, quirky and didn’t fit in with the “regular” crowd. She attended my birthday parties and we hung out after school together many days that my mom had to work late. I am so thankful for this introduction to the notion that some children were different from me. It’s because of mom saying it’s “no big deal,” that I learned it really was “no big deal.” I learned that I didn’t have to run fast (okay, I never ran fast, but indulge me for a second) because my different friend couldn’t run fast. We were fine not always being first.

After I moved away, my mom recommended I volunteer at a camp for kids with disabilities. I was twelve. Wow, was this camp special! I met kids with Spina Bifida, Downs Syndrome, autism, and many other disabilities. I was at the world-renowned A.I. DuPont Children’s hospital volunteering to help kids paint, toss a ball, swim, and, for some, just hang out and be kids. This camp made a profound impact on the trajectory of my life and I didn’t even know it. I learned that it was “no big deal” that these kids weren’t like me. When we would go bowling (the hospital has a bowling alley, how cool is that!), a strike is a strike no matter who you are and how you got up to the lane. Whether you wheeled up, walked up, sauntered or limped — if you bowled a strike, it was a good day.

If you’re considering a summer camp for your special needs child, ask those that have a hands-on knowledge of your child if they know of a camp around that may be a good fit. Your pediatrician, your school counselor, your advocate, and your behavioral specialist are all good resources for learning what’s out there.

Be selective. Bodie, my son, does not do arts and crafts. It’s not his “thing.” But Legos are. Is there a summer Lego club at the library? Ours has one 😉 Does your child enjoy playing board games? Start a neighborhood board game club — once a week at your house for a few hours. Define some ground rules, and go with it. If you are blessed to live near a college or university with a program in Education or Special Education, reach out to the head of the department and see if there are any internships going on for the teachers in training. Maybe your child can be a part of that? Our local university has a bunch of STEM camps that span the duration of the summer months. They even have a few that are for girls only, which is super cool.

Know your child’s limits and don’t push too hard. If your child has a major sensory disability, laser tag camp might not be for him or her. Perhaps a half-day camp might be the thing. Therapeutic riding camps are often available around different equine farms, too.

Be bold. Contact the director of the camp and ask if there is an older student that may be a good mentor for your child, should your child attend that camp. Is there a buddy system? Could you join with some of your child’s other friends so there can be a level of comfort when it comes to attending camp? The possibilities are endless, if you just ask.

The summer of my sophomore year of college I ended up working as the Aquatics Director of a camp for children with disabilities. Some of the children were deaf, some had ADHD, one had Hydrocephaly, some had major language delays, and all were amazing. It was because of this camp that I fell in love with the deaf culture. It was a camp where kids lived, in residence at the beach, for three weeks at a time. A sleep-away camp. The stories I have of my summer at camp are legendary. The impact these kids had on my life is undeniable. From one little boy standing on his chair yelling “BRAIN FREEZE” while rolling his false eye back in his head, to another young deaf preteen beginning her journey into womanhood (did I mention I wasn’t proficient in sign language at the time??), or my sweet hydrocephalic camper awkwardly chasing the girls around calling them his little “love kittens,” and one sweet girl who said the phonetic sound Y for her L’s proclaiming ” I yove ya-yanya (aka- I love lasagna).  It was a summer to remember. It shaped me. And I wouldn’t have had the chance to see what it was like to live with children with ADHD 24/7 if the parents hadn’t taken the leap to try.

Try. One 3 letter word that brought a lifetime of positive memories for me and the campers as well.

One last note of encouragement is that you don’t know who you will be shaping by sending your child to camp. Your child is a blessing. By allowing others to get to know your child you may be helping to create the next EC teacher.  Because of my childhood friend I don’t fear people who are different. People are people. I seriously cannot imagine what my life would be if her mother had chosen to homeschool her and we had not met. I was blessed because her mom was brave.

Summer Camp — why not?