How Summer Camp Shapes Your Special Needs Child’s Future

Mikelle Camp Bandana

It is that time of year, the school year is winding down and summer plans are shaping up. By now, the application process for most summer camps is completed and the steep application fees have been paid. Parents and students now anxiously await the arrival of the approval letter, which usually arrives by “snail mail.”

Thoughts of camp go on hold until the week before the assigned week arrives; then there is a mad dash to pack sleeping bags, label clothes — and for the special needs child, making sure medications are in order, diet instructions are clear, and emergency numbers are current. The space and time between application and arrival at the lake, the mountain or seashore, is the perfect time to strategize how to help your camper get the most out their experience.

With some forethought and appropriate preparation, camp can set the stage for successful transition and, in some ways, be as powerful as the school experience.

Your plan needn’t be a burdensome activity, ideas discussed over the dinner table will do. Set two or three simple goals, and clarify them with your camper before camp begins, you are set!

Remembering Mikelle’s camp days, her plan was to find the cutest male camp counselor to take to the dance, to spend nights by the campfire talking and giggling about boys with her camp counselors, and to spend the mornings sharing secrets only those in her cabin knew.

The development of strong social skills was wrapped up in all her goals. Learning conversation, using her communication device, developing the confidence to ask for what she wanted, seeing the value of humor in engaging people, and helping them to see beyond the labels and her disability were essential for her transition. Learning and using these skills served her well, and Mikelle learned to expect typical young people to value her and want to be her friend. These skills became Invaluable as she set out on her own recruiting roommates and determining many parts of her life. She still uses these skills today, and has continued to have high expectations.

For me, camp provided needed respite. Having unloaded her suitcase and unpacked her sleeping bag, I climbed back into the van, knowing that I had from Sunday evening to Friday morning to catch up with myself and reflect on where we were headed individually and together. I often traveled to visit friends or took short road trips, savoring the quietness of the open road, knowing that at that moment, the only thing I had to do was drive.

We would meet again on Friday morning at Rocky Mountain Village, and watch as campers received their awards. Then we would gather all her belongings, hope nothing got lost, and head back home, both of us refreshed and happy to share our adventures.

Refreshed, we set our compass set for the next phase, the next school year and beyond. We had a vision.

Consider thinking of C.A.M.P. this way:

C is for Connecting, Conversation, Caring and Curiosity.

  • Connecting with new friends, sharing ideas and beliefs, and growing your community of support.
  • Conversation is the glue that holds community together. Together with your new connections you will find you can achieve more than you ever thought possible.
  • Caring for yourself and your family is the most important part of the camp experience. Enjoy!
  • Curiosity is important! Ask lots of questions.

A is for Adventure, Advice and Advocacy.

  • Look at camp through the eyes of a child, and you will see it as an adventure filled with cozy cabins, swimming and fun activities.
  • Ask for advice.
  • Advocate for your child and family. Camp is another opportunity to connect to resources to meet your needs.

M is for Maximize, Mapping the future and Memories.

  • Go for it and participate! Camp is no time to sit on the sidelines. The greatest rewards come from maximizing your experience.
  • Gather all those new ideas and use them to map out a better future. Be sure to ask your new friends to help, if needed.
  • Cherish the memories and hold them close to your heart. Camp is one place where you will be able to relax with your family in a place where you are safe and understood.

P is for Passion, Purpose and Partnerships.

  • At camp anxiety can be replaced with HOPE and passion. You will leave the Full Life Camp experience energized.
  • You will gain more understanding of your personal purpose in helping your family as it grows and matures. The days of wandering through the various systems you interact with will diminish as you gain the tools, the focus and a clear purpose to create a Full Life Ahead for everyone in your family.
  • Parent Partnerships Rock! In many ways, parents are more powerful than professionals, especially when they work together. The Full Life Ahead organization is evidence of what purposeful and committed parent partnerships can accomplish.

Remember, there is a Full Life Ahead waiting for you! Embrace the camp experience – it will return your embrace and quite possibly set the stage for your future.