How to Choose a Special Needs Summer Camp

How to Choose a Special Needs Summer Camp

It might seem as though spring has just begun, but camps are already advertising and enrolling for their summer programs. Doing some research early will ensure your child a spot in the summer camp of your choice. Consider the following steps when searching for the right types of special needs camp.

What You and Your Child Want

Ask yourself what you want your child to gain from the camp experience. Think about how a summer camp might help you child learn new skills, gain confidence, become more independent, or improve proficiency in certain areas. Some camps are more centered around social interaction, whereas others might focus on structured activities. Ask yourself what your child needs or any concerns you have regarding a particular types of special needs camp style. Take into consideration your child’s desires — if they are more motivated to go to a particular camp, they might get a better experience out of it.

Camp Types

Some camps are overnight camps, and children with types of special needs can experience valuable activities during the day and at night. Many camps are co-ed, and some value the interaction between boys and girls, while others keep boys and girls in separate dormitories. Consider if your child is ready for an overnight camp, or if drop-off situations are better for your child’s needs.

Cost and Size

Camps often last anywhere from one to eight weeks, and the price can be anywhere from $100-$2000 for one week, $1700-$7000 for four weeks, up to $3500-$11000 for seven or more weeks. Some camps offer scholarships or payment options. Camp size also makes a difference on your special needs child’s experience. Even though some special needs camps are larger than others, they often break the children into smaller groups, so each group gets individualized care and attention.


Look at the activities offered by special needs camps and determine if the camp will teach your child something new or will challenge your child in new and interesting ways. Some special needs camps are designed for a particular need, while others cater to a variety of special needs. Many special needs camps include physical activities, such as climbing, swimming, or sports. They also often involve arts activities, including music, performing arts, and fine arts, such as fabrics or painting. Outdoor activities are also often a staple of special needs camps, and children are enabled to explore and learn about nature. Academics might also be a focus of the camp, and children learn with technology as well as traditional methods of reading, speech and language acquisition, and independent living skills. Consider a well-rounded educational experience, which many types of special needs camps offer, rather than a camp with a single focus.

Ask Questions and Get Answers

There are many important questions to ask yourself about the types of special needs camps that are often overlooked, especially if it is your first time searching for a camp.

  • Is the camp accredited by the American Camp Association?
  • What are the special needs camp’s philosophy and goals? Will the camp provide the experience you and your child want?
  • What are the health and safety policies, and is the camp equipped for emergency situations?
  • How many counselors per campers work at the camp? Do they go through specialized training, or do they have credentials and experience working with special needs children?
  • Who prepares the food, and does the camp take into account the food allergies or specifications of each child?
  • How does the camp adjust for individual needs and abilities?
  • Will the camp provide references of other families who have attended the camp?
  • What percentage of campers return each year?
  • Are there additional costs for optional activities? What is the total cost of the special needs camp? Is there a refund policy in case the individual must leave early?
  • What kind of child and camper is best suited for this special needs camp?

Narrow down your options to your top choices, considering the cost as well as the experience. Ask your questions and think about the pros and cons of each program. If you do your research and understand the goals for your child and how the special needs camp can achieve them, you are sure to find the camp that is right for you and your child.

Photos by Clarkston SCAMP


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