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Maximizing Inclusion Camp Success for Kids with Disabilities

Posted on 03/09/18 by Lynn B. in Classes, Camps, & Programs

If your child or teen has a disability, but the camp they want to attend isn’t specifically geared toward that disability, how can parents ensure that it will be a positive camp experience?

Anne Reed, MT-BC, is the Clinical Director for The Music Settlement’s Center for Music Therapy. She shared some questions that parents of kids with disabilities should ask to help ensure a terrific summer camp experience for their child.

“Parents often ask what disabilities we can accommodate at our camps. We can accommodate youth with many different types of disabilities, but true camp success depends upon the level of assistance the camper requires,” Reed said. “Also, some camps may require a certain level of musical aptitude, ensemble experience, and/or experience with an approach such as the Suzuki Method.”

“First and foremost, our camp counselors are there to support the students within the camp setting. A Board-Certified Music Therapist may provide oversight to inclusion counselors.

We ask that campers be independent with toileting. We are not licensed to provide assistance with this, so our summer campers must have toilet mastery,” Reed said. “Of course, if a child has a personal aide or caregiver who can provide assistance in that area and that person will remain on campus during camp, we may be able to accommodate them. . It’s smart for parents to ask about that first, so you can determine whether your child will require extra help.”

Summer camps may or may not provide a daily lunch. Even if lunch isn’t provided, snacks and celebratory refreshments are often available. Parents will need to inform camp staff about their child’s dietary restrictions and any allergies.

“In addition to packing a lunch every day, if there are restrictions, we would recommend giving the camp director a supply of special snacks that your child enjoys, so they don’t feel left out when other kids are enjoying a snack or special party food,” Reed said.

If your child uses a support for ambulation or uses a wheelchair for mobility, it is important to ask whether the building is not only accessible, but also whether all camp activities are based on the ground floor.

“Even in a building with elevators, a power outage or emergency can mean that the elevator is not available. We typically schedule people who use supportive ambulation –walkers, wheelchairs, etc. – on the ground floor of our building. Given our space restriction, this is not always possible with summer camps. Even if the building is ADA compliant, if an elevator is required to reach the camp space, the camp might not be a good fit for your camper. Be sure to find out whether all of the camp spaces are accessible without use of an elevator.”

Summer camps are a wonderful opportunity for children with disabilities to socialize with typically developing peers, but sometimes it can get to be too much. “As far as communication, I discuss with parents the importance of the camper being able to communicate to camp staff when they need to take a break or use the restroom, for safety purposes.”

Speaking of breaks, something else Reed often discusses with parents is the child’s attention span. Some camps will require students to be able to sit and stand for extended periods of time.

“The child’s ability to stay focused will also determine whether a particular camp is appropriate. It’s a safety concern, because if children have a tendency to wander, they can easily slip past the camp staff’s radar. We also want to minimize disruptions during camp activities,” Reed said.

If a child requires an aide in a classroom setting, then they would possibly also require an aide for camp. “Aides are used in different ways: Does the aide help with their ADLs [Activities of Daily Living], or to help keep them in their seat so they can participate, or are the aides specifically providing academic support? If the child requires an aide for academic support, then they may not necessarily need the aide for camp. If they are using the aide for behavior support, however, then we would need to know more about that. Children who are prone to verbal or physical outbursts that would be threatening and potentially put another student or instruments/equipment at risk may not be appropriate for some of the camps.

And certainly, if a child requires an aide for ADLs, specifically toileting, then that aide will be required for the camp setting,” Reed said.

Reed acknowledges that aspect can be frustrating for parents, especially if their child has a physical disability where they can engage cognitively with typically developing peers, but require added assistance with their activities of daily living.

“In those situations, we would recommend that an aide be available if the camper needs assistance with eating, toileting, even costume changes. We want everybody to have the same experience!” Reed said.

She is happy to talk with parents about the most successful camp for their specific child and their interests and needs.

“We ask that all parents considering inclusion camping talk to me first (216-421-5806 ext. 246), and I can help sort through a lot of initial concerns. We may also ask permission to speak with the child’s school teachers and we may also request to see a copy of the child’s IEP, so we can understand their functioning level and any needed behavioral supports,” Reed said. “This is why we like to talk to the teachers, to get a better idea of how a typical school day works for that child.”

“I have actually created a form that I use as a guide when I’m talking to parents. I can email or put the form in the mail for them to review. I have given the form to several interested parents already, just to help guide them in their summer-camp decision making,” Reed said.

If TMS summer camps are not a good fit for your child, our Center for Music Therapy provides individual and group music therapy sessions over the summer. “These provide summer fun and socialization opportunities, while also working toward specific therapeutic goals through music-based interventions,” Reed said.

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For information about Music Therapy or inclusion camping at The Music Settlement, please email Anne Reed at areed@themusicsettlement.org

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