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Choosing a Quality Summer Camp for a Child With a Disability

Every child deserves to experience summer camp. It is an adventure like no other where a child can bond with nature, build self-confidence, and make lifelong friends. For a child with a disability, summer camp can break down barriers and foster a sense of belonging.

My career in recreation started as a one-to-one support worker for children and adults with disabilities. After many years, I worked at Easter Seals Camp Horizon in Bragg Creek. I witnessed first-hand the positive impact summer camp has on a child with a disability. There are some fantastic summer camp programs that provide quality experiences for children with disabilities.

To find the best fit for your child, here are three things  
to consider and questions to ask a potential camp program provider:

What type of support is available for my child? What support does your child require? Karen Dommett, Program Manager for Calgary Adapted Hub powered by Jumpstart, suggests being transparent with the program providers on what is needed to make the best possible experience for both your child and staff.

Here are some questions to ask:

  • Is an aide or support worker provided or do I have to provide my own? What are the expectations and guidelines for aides or support workers?
  • Tip: Quality programs build rapport with aides and support workers. Establishing clear expectations and open lines of communication between program staff and aides is critical for success.
  • What is the ratio of campers to staff? Are there volunteers who support the program?
  • Do staff provide support with toileting, personal hygiene, or eating?
  • Is there adaptive equipment on-site to support my child’s needs? Are visual cues used (i.e. a visual schedule of what activities are happening every day of the week)?

2. Will activities be adapted for my child? Each child is unique. Quality programming acknowledges individual differences and adapts for optimal learning and engagement.

Here are some questions to ask:

  • Do staff take an individualized approach (i.e. adapt activities for individual differences)?
  • How will staff support my child’s success and mastery?
  • Tip: Quality programs assume children are competent. Gilary Guzman, from Between Friends, believes we can set children with disabilities up for success when we assume they can do everything we expect all kids can do. If they need support along the way, then that’s okay.
  • What types of activities are planned? What are ways to adapt these activities?
  • How will staff ensure my child is engaged and motivated to participate?
  • Tip: Quality programs do regular check-ins with children and families to assess engagement and satisfaction.

3. How is your program accessible and inclusive? A quality summer camp program is accessible and inclusive. According to Amanda Ebert, Recreation and Physical Activity Consultant with Equality Fitness & Recreation, program providers should always strive to create meaningful experiences for everyone who attends their programs. Inclusion is a process, not an outcome.

From start to finish, the experience should be easy to navigate and enjoyable. Most importantly, your child should feel safe and supported while at camp. 

Here are some questions to ask:

  • Is this program specifically geared toward children with disabilities? Can a participant’s friend or cousin attend camp if they do not have a disability?
  • Tip: Quality programs have clear, specific program descriptions that tell customers who the program is geared toward and what activities will be included. 

What questions are asked during registration to get to know my child and better understand their needs and abilities? For example:

  • Does your child use a mobility device?
  • Is your child verbal?
  • What is your child’s chronological age and developmental age?
  • Are there any health concerns we need to be aware of?
  • Are there any known triggers or sensitivities?
  • What motivates your child?
  • What can we do to make this a successful experience for your child?
  • Are program spaces accessible for your child?
  • What training and/or education do staff receive?

Before registering your child, consider some of these questions that can help you find the right program. Above all, trust your gut. If you have a good first impression, receive prompt and thorough communication, and you believe your child will enjoy the program’s activities, then give it a try!

Finding the right program for your child will take some time but it will be worth it. Summer camp will bring new adventures, lasting memories, and unlimited play - something every child deserves.

Jen is the co-owner of WordPLAY Consulting Inc. and a Recreation Program Specialist with The City of Calgary. Need to create more connections across your education, sport, or recreation organization? Visit Feeling Social? Follow on Instagram.


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