Think Camp Yes, You Can Send Your Child to Camp
As I began to write this article, I thought back to my own experience years ago. For quite some time, I had hesitated to send my child away to camp. As parents, it is natural for us to be protective of our young. When they have special needs of any kind, we tend to hold on even tighter. Whether it is a physical disability, emotional disability, chronic or debilitating illness, or even a food allergy, we fear every moment that they are out of our care.
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After all, who could look after our children the way we do? My son was diagnosed at age 7 with Crohn’s disease. Unlike many other medical issues that are visible to the world, Crohn’s is invisible, silent, sitting in wait until it strikes. We tried everything holistic to help him, including specialized diets. I never sent him to camp because I knew that food would be an issue. He was small for his age (most kids with Crohn’s are, by the way) and I was protective – overly protective for far too long.
It wasn’t until many years later that I finally relented. Foolish me, I waited until the last year he could attend as a camper – the summer before his senior year of high school. That meant nine years of camp that he had missed because of my fears — nine lost years of developing the strong bonds that the other kids had with each other. I’m the one who cried tears thinking of what I had denied him – what he termed one of the best weeks of his life. He got to be a kid – got to do all the things I was afraid to let him do.
Today, there are camps of every kind for children with disabilities and medical illnesses. When a friend of mine found out her son had type 1 diabetes a few years ago, the first thing she did was sign him up for the summer camp they had in town. She knew that it would help him cope with his illness to be able to be around other kids dealing with the same thing. I wish I had been that smart years earlier.
What Can Camp Do for Your Child?
Going to camp can expose your child to activities he or she may have no other opportunity to experience. Depending on the camp, your child may have access to sports, nature, art, music, or a host of options not available at school or home. Experiences such as these can help enrich your child’s life.
Best of all, camps for children with special needs offer well-trained staff and volunteers who truly care about the experience your child will have, as well as his or her well-being. Your child will be with people who understand his or her needs, allowing your child to feel included at all times.
Camp can give your child a sense of independence that may have never been there before. After all, mom or dad will not be hovering during that period. For a short time, your child will be free to be a kid on his or her terms – however that may look.
Your child will increase his or her sense of self-reliance, identity, ambition, adventure, focus – all crucial for growth. As children are free to grow and learn from successes and failures, they can flourish in sometimes unimaginable ways. As parents, we want to protect them from failure, from hurt, and sometimes that means we do it not realizing we might even be preventing successes. At camp, they have the opportunity to experience freedoms we are often unable to give them at home. Even the smallest accomplishment at camp can be a giant step for some children.
Finally, going to camp can introduce a child to a whole new set of hobbies, passions, and even start them on the road to a future career. Camp can empower a child to dream, imagine, and experience life in a whole new way.
What Can Camp Do for You?
The first thought that many parents think when they send their child to camp is that they finally have a break. Parenting is hard, even if you do not have a child with special needs. It is a 24-hour-a-day, 365-day-a-year job.
There is much more to that for you when you send your child to camp. First, you can commend yourself for putting your child’s needs first – before and above your fears. You have (temporarily) relinquished control – which can be freeing once you allow it. Next, you have let your child know that you trust him or her to be able to make decisions and explore life and grow.
Most of all, you get the joy of seeing your child through new eyes – through the eyes of his or her new friends and camp staff. You will see this when you return to pick up your child from camp and see the excitement and the interactions unfolding in front of you.
Choosing a Camp
Many camps, such as the one my son went to, are free of charge to the families. The first place to look is any organization for your child’s disability or illness. They often have resources that can help you in your search – or they may even run a camp.
You want to find a camp that is accredited by the American Camp Association (ACA). ACA accredited camps have to meet up to 300 health and safety standards. The ACA website lists 41 different categories for camps for children with disabilities and other special needs. It makes it easier for you to do the research when you can narrow the field. We have included a link to the website below.
You can also check out our article on the “Seven Questions Parents Should Ask When Choosing a Camp.” Trust yourself, ask questions, and know that your child will be in good hands. You can do this.
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This post originally appeared on our January/February 2020 Magazine