The flowers have bloomed, the trees are green, and the sun has melted away the last remnants of a brutal winter. The time is ripe, for camp. Now, if you are a person with a disability or a parent/guardian of a person with a disability or special need, you might be a little hesitant to sign up for a special needs camp. You might think the over-night camp experience isn’t “for” you. Well, let’s dispel that myth right now and make it clear, save for some rare exceptions, camp is for everyone. There are a number of fully accessible special needs camps all throughout the country uniquely equipped to provide a memorable experience for you or your loved one.
Easterseals has its very own Camp Merry Heart, which caters to both adults and children alike, but there are many other camps you can choose from. With all these choices though, how do you choose?
We’ve broken down the top ten things you should consider before choosing a special needs camp:
What kind of camp experience are you looking for?
Many camps offer similar settings and activities, but some may have have specialties. Sports? Arts? Trips off campus? Be sure to identify what you hope to achieve from your camp experience and search for a camp that specializes in your type of fun.
What types of accommodations do you require and can the camp provide them?
Use a wheelchair? Sign language? Have an intellectual or developmental disability? If so, then in order to experience all that camp has to offer, you may require some accommodations. In this regard, not all special needs camps are created equal. Speak with the camp staff and be honest about your needs. They can give you a better idea of how accessible their camp is for you or your loved one.
Is it a safe environment?
This is the most important consideration on our list. While attending a special needs camp, you’ll be trusting the staff to look after your or our loved one’s well-being so you’ll want to ensure things are as safe as possible. Do they have an on-site nurse and what is their availability? Can they properly store and administer your medications? Is there a nearby hospital? What’s the camper to counselor ratio? Is the camp accredited by the American Camp Association? These are all good questions to ask the camp staff.
What kinds of training do the counselors receive?
The camp counselors are the individuals camper most interact with so you are going to want to make sure they receive the proper training. They should have completed background checks, taught how to administer daily living supports, and had emergency medical training (CPR, Allergy Relief, etc.).
Have you done a tour yet?
Nothing beats an in-person campus tour, but if your schedule doesn’t allow for such an experience, perhaps the camp has a virtual tour you can take. Take a look at the cabins, their equipment, and meet the staff. If you don’t “click” with the staff or the grounds look unkempt, that could indicate a bigger problem. Trust your gut – if you feel uneasy, this may not be the camp for you.
Can they make dietary accommodations?
If you have dietary restrictions, you’ll want to confirm with the staff that they can accommodate them. Get it in writing so there’s no confusion when it comes meal-time.
What’s a typical week look like?
The answer to this question will give you a clear idea of what you’ll actually DO at camp. Do they go on trips? Stay indoors? Party every night? If you prefer one of these activities over the other, this will give you a chance to see if this is the right camp for you.
What’s it cost and is their tuition assistance?
Let’s face it – money is a factor when choosing a special needs camp. You’ll want to check the pricing and see if it fits into your budget. Some State assistance could be available through PerformCare or the Division on Developmental Disabilities or some other state agency. Depending on your financial situation, some camps (like our own) offer scholarship assistance. You’ll have to find out what resources are available to you through research and conversations with the camp staff.
What do the reviews say?
Google is your friend. Not only does it provide you with the #1 research tool on the internet, it gives you all kinds of information about local businesses. Take a look at their business page on Google Maps and read what others are saying. There you’ll see reviews from former camp patrons. Take these into consideration and see how many good vs. bad reviews their are. You can even ask the camp staff to address some specific bad reviews to see how they’ve addressed them.
If you can get answers all these questions, you’ll be able to make an informed decision when choosing your camp. Camp is a place to form memories that will last a lifetime – make sure they’re the kind you can look back on and smile. If you’re interested in attending Camp Merry Heart, call 908-852-3896 and tell them “the blog” sent ya.
This is our list, but did we miss anything? Leave a comment below and share your advice for anyone who might be looking to attend a special needs camp.
If you liked this article, please check out: I’m 19 and I’m Spending my Third Summer at a Camp For People with Special Needs: Here’s Why