NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - As the weather warms and summer begins, dozens of camps across the nation will be catering to children and teens with special needs.
“Kids, whether they have special needs or not, are kids, and they are helped by summer camp programs,” said W. George Scarlett, deputy chair of the Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Development at Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts.
Scarlett told Reuters Health he believes summer camps are beneficial for all children and teens.
For kids with special needs, he added, “There is no need to change the values and goals that you find in any good camp, the values of developing a camp spirit, engaging in fun, recreational activities, sitting around a family-style dinner table.”
The best camps for such children, according to Scarlett, have special supports and counselors.
“Children with autism often require special supports to get out of their comfort zone and engage in any new routine and activity,” he said. “Children with more emotionally challenging disturbances need special supports in the way counselors handle their anger or impulses."
Also, he noted, children with physical disabilities often require assistive technologies.
Tufts has compiled a comprehensive list of camps for children and adults with emotional disturbances as well as campers with cancer, hemophilia, muscular dystrophy, burns, HIV, and other physical and mental conditions. The list is available here: bit.ly/1mGBz8S.
Many camps offer children and teens diagnosed with autism a more comfortable learning environment than schools, Scarlett added, because of their relaxing environments and proximity to nature.
For example, Camp Wannagoagain in Pascoag, Rhode Island, works with children and teens diagnosed with autism or a related social-communication disorder.
"The camp is designed where we accept children of all abilities, and our goal is to have a camp set up and supported enough so that they can be successful and experience camp that is as close to a typical day-camp as where their brothers and sisters go," said Joanne Quinn, executive director of the camp. "My son's turning 19, and he's been going for 10 years. We have a young adult section, too. We don't want to say, no."
Camp Wannagoagain begins in late July, and nearly 100 attend. (Information about Camp Wannagoagain is available here: bit.ly/RrLWPY.)
Quinn said many attendees swim, cook, learn karate and experience yoga. "Our staff is very well trained, and we provide the sensory breaks that they need. Some staff have been here 10 years," she added. "Our kids generally get kicked out of all the other camps, and we work very hard, we've never sent a camper home. If somebody is having a really bad day, we staff accordingly so that we would have the option if someone needed to have a parallel schedule."
Angie Kniss, former director of the Down Syndrome Summer Camp in Crosslake, Minnesota, said she started the camp nearly 14 years ago for her son. "We make it a week-long camp for them, so they can go horseback riding, canoeing and fishing at their level," she said. "This year will be our most campers ever at 55. We've had an overwhelming response, but we need more space.”
Kniss said campers come from across North America for the mid-June camp. (Information about the Down Syndrome Summer Camp is available here: bit.ly/1jlote2.)
Camps surrounded by nature, fresh air and water will appeal to most children, Scarlett added. "Fire is appealing, water is appealing, games are appealing, and when that's the medium for relating, you can bring in all kinds of good stuff – foster teamwork, foster language, foster impulse control."
And according to Quinn, many campers leave with a love for nature that they never experienced before.