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Finding the Perfect Camp for Your Special Needs Child

Children with special needs are a diverse population that includes kids with a broad range of abilities and challenges such as physical-care needs, speech defects, behavioral deficits and learning disabilities. All of these children have opportunities to thrive at a wide range of summer camps in New Jersey, including everything from inclusive, traditional summer camps to programs that offer intensive film-making classes or activities like therapeutic horseback riding. While the process of selecting any camp can feel overwhelming for time-stretched parents, the good news is that there are plenty of resources available to help you plan a memorable, transformative summer camp experience for your child.
We spoke with Susie Lupert, Executive Director of The New York/New Jersey affiliate of The American Camp Association. Below she offers some tips to help you find the perfect summer camp for your child:

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Seek Out Help
It’s there, it’s unbiased, and it’s free, explains Lupert. “We have in-house experts on our staff who provide parents with unbiased advice and support. They can direct you to camps they think might be a good fit, and they can talk to you about your concerns or what kind of experience you want your child to have.”
Aim High Special Needs
Peruse the website of any camp, and you are sure to find winsome prose offering your child the one-of-a-kind, unforgettable summer camp experience of a lifetime. Is this setting parents and kids up with unrealistic expectations? Not at all, says Lupert. “Camp really can be a transformative experience and your child can have a summer they will never forget. It’s totally immersive, you’re outside with no technology, in nature, and making these close, bonding friendships with other kids and with adults.” It’s all a matter of finding the camp that’s the right fit for your child, explains Lupert. “You want to do as much research as possible in looking at different camps. Of course, parents do not have unlimited resources of time, but we [NY/NJ ACA] can assist with the footwork and answer any questions parents have.”
Special NeedsFind the Perfect Fit
The best place to start, Lupert suggests, is by establishing what it is you hope your child will experience or achieve throughout the course of camp. Is the goal to increase independence or to work on social interaction skills? Are you looking for your child to learn a specific skill? Line up your goals first and then seek out the camp that can best match them, rather than refitting your goals to match the profile of a certain camp, Lupert says. “There are so many camps out there, there is no need to settle for something that does not feel like a perfect fit.”
Get to Know Camp DirectorsSpecial Needs
Camp Directors, besides setting the tone of a camp, are the year-round employees who will meet with you before summer begins, unlike the counselors, who typically start working a week before camp begins. “Camp Directors will typically want to meet with your child one-on-one and many will come and do this in your home. They can also give you a tour of the camp facility, and answer your questions and concerns.” Lupert stresses the importance of being honest about where your child is at, so the Camp Director can effectively gauge if your camper will be best served at their particular facility. “You want to be honest about your child’s skills, what they most enjoy doing, and how much assistance they will need throughout the day. This way, on the off chance that the Director doesn’t think her Camp would be the best fit for your child, she can recommend a different camp that would work.”

The American Camp Association of New York and New Jersey is a nonprofit dedicated to preserving, promoting and enhancing the quality of the summer camp experience. Visit their website at www.acanynj.com or call one of their certified experts at 212-391-5208 x1002.

Hero (Top) Feature Image: © Sergey Novikov / Adobe Stock
Additional Images Courtesy of the American Camp Association, NY and NJ.