Many parents are so busy trying to get their child through the school year successfully that they do not think about possible summer activities until summer is almost here. By then, many camps and programs have already filled up. Parents may find themselves in a mad scramble to find ways to keep their child occupied. My biggest tip for parents, especially parents of children with disabilities or special healthcare needs, is to start searching and planning as early as possible!
If you find a program that seems right for your child, but no space is available for this year, find out when you should contact them about enrollment for next year. You can also ask to be put on their email list, if they have one. Use calendars and any other tools that work for you to set up a future reminder.
Each year the Family Support Program at the University of North Carolina School of Social Work creates a directory of summer camps and programs for children who have various disabilities. The 2018 Summer Camp Directory also includes tips for conducting your search and questions to ask to make sure that the program is a good match for your child. In some larger communities a local newspaper, parent magazine or other organization create similar listings of summer camps, programs and activities in that area.
Many local Departments of Parks and Recreation offer summer day camps, and some have “therapeutic recreation” programs designed specifically for children and youth with disabilities. However, regular camp programs supported by public funds have an obligation to make reasonable accommodations that would make it possible for many children with disabilities to participate in their program. Some of the Y’s are also making a deliberate effort to be more accommodating of children with special needs.
Call around, talk to friends and acquaintances, check out public libraries, museums, movie theaters, bowling alleys, skate rinks, churches, public and private schools, tourist attractions, scouts, 4-H clubs, etc. for summer offerings that might be of interest to your child. Parents often have to create a patchwork quilt of activities in order to keep children constructively occupied throughout the summer. At home, consider using educational websites, software and activity books to keep the young minds active and skills from being lost. Many disability-related websites also offer summer tips.
The key message is to start planning early… really early! That is when you will have the most options and a chance at getting financial assistance, if needed. With planning, your child can go from having a ho-hum summer to a truly great one!