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Ilana Danneman
BY Ilana Danneman
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7 Tips for Getting Your Child with Special Needs Ready for Overnight Camp

It’s summer and your kids are excited and one thing that has them super pumped is overnight camp. I was a camper myself and I still think back to my days at camp. I don’t think any single experience had such a positive impact on my life, as did my summer days and nights at overnight camp. I can still see the little porch light, hear the squeaky cabin door and crickets and smell the North Georgia mountain air. In my mind, every child should have an opportunity to go to camp.

A school may fit 10% of your intellectual and book smart kids but summer and camp is where the other 90% can thrive, grow and learn.  So, before you send your precious children off for camp, make sure you keep a few things in mind.

1. Use the packing List!

Most camps have figured this down to a science. If you have a repeat camper, you can for sure ask them what they used or didn’t use, but for first timers, stick with the list. My secret with packing is to use large 1 and 2-gallon zip lock bags. Use one bag for socks, 1 for underwear, etc. It will help your Disorganized Danny when it comes to unloading his things and his counselor will thank you! Need to send your weighted vest? Make sure your counselor knows how and when to use it.

2. Discuss your child’s Special Needs

Does your child have special needs? Make sure you’ve discussed them with the camp and the counselor, if possible. Be honest! The more they know (e.g.: He tends to have a tantrum if you serve tuna for lunch or he tends to sleep walk at night.”) the better prepared they will be for your child.

Does your child need a calming spot, or hideaway or swing? Chances are they will get plenty of great sensory input from being outdoors but if you’re at an indoor camp, you may want to provide a set of Fun Frames, a Cozy Canoe or soothing swing. Some camps will even provide much needed equipment.

3. Get medicine ready and packed early

Call your physician to call in an extra prescription so you have one ready on the first day of camp or if your camp has a prescription service get it in early!

4. Pens and Paper

Does your camp have a way for your child to communicate with you? Writing home can be highly therapeutic and serve for a great memory in years to come. Save those letters so you can read them together later in the year.

5. Leave the Electronics

Do not (and I repeat)… Do not send electronics to camp. Your kids will thrive without them. They will learn coping skills (yes they can), social skills and find out there is a big world outside of the palm of their hand. Your counselors will again thank you, as one of my kids told me, “The kids with electronics were never ready to go to the next activity as they wouldn’t put their devices down.” Camp is a time for learning a different set of skills outside of the electronic world. Your child will thank you for leaving their devices at home, but maybe not right away.

6. Talk About It

Tell your kids how much you loved camp or how much you wish you had gone to camp. Let them discuss their fears. Make sure you have a talk about privacy and respecting one’s body. Ask the camp what they have in place to insure safety. Remind your child that everyone gets the jitters and feeling a little homesick is normal.

7. Enjoy!

Enjoy the break from your kids. You deserve it! Take some time to yourselves to refresh and replenish for when your children return home. You will need it! The laundry comes back….dirty!

Ilana Danneman

Written on May 31, 2016 by:

Ilana Danneman is a product developer for Fun And Function. She has worked with therapists, teachers and parents of special needs children for 20 years and has been a physical therapist herself since 1986 with experience in acute care, spinal cord injury (Shepherd Center), outpatient rehab and pediatrics. Ilana has a passion for writing and teaching kids (and adults) how to move! She can be reached at [email protected]
  • Jane Odom

    I agree with everything except #5. If a child uses a communication device – camp is an awesome place to use language and communicate with peers and adults! Plus, they can then tell mom and dad all about their adventures.

  • Ettina

    I disagree with #5 too. And not just for AAC users. Many autistic kids find that technology can help them self-regulate. Focusing on a screen can block out an overloading stimulus, or give the child an excuse to avoid eye contact without seeming weird. And my phone has assistive apps on it, such as a scheduler, reminders and a meditation app. I use picture schedules on my phone to help me cook, and some people use picture schedules for a lot more things, like remembering how to change their clothes.
    Besides, would you recommend sending a child to camp without their power wheelchair? That’s electronic, too. What about a pacemaker or vagus nerve stimulator?

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