Thanks so much for talking about the importance of getting to know and staying in contact with the summer camp counselors so you can stay informed about your kid while they’re at camp. My nephew has autism and my sister is worried about sending him to summer camp but doesn’t want to limit his experiences. Making sure we have contact with some staff will help ease our nerves a lot.
Collaborating at Summer Camp
How to Use Your Child’s IEP to Meet their Summer Camp Needs
Summer is in full swing! Yay for teachers and students! As a teacher, it was always so nice to sigh in relief as I closed my classroom door to start summer vacation. Now that I am a parent, there isn’t much relief in my sigh. It’s more a sigh of exhaustion because of the change in routine/lack of routine and my need to establish new routines and activities. It’s also time to send kids to Summer Camp.
Many parents send their children to summer camps or programs. As a parent of a special needs child, this can be a nerve-wracking endeavor! Which camp is best? Will my child thrive there? Will the counselors or care providers know how to care for my child? Will my child be able to handle this big change, just in time to change again in a couple of months?
Now that summer is here and your child is already settled into their new routine let’s see what is working and what isn’t. Here are some helpful reminders about what you can do TODAY to keep them on track and how you can research a summer program for next year to make each transition a bit easier.
Set Summer Camp Expectations
Go early and meet the counselors, coaches or care providers. If you have not already done so, think about providing them with an “All About Me” worksheet. A lot of this information should come from your child’s Individualized Education Program (Individualized Education Program (IEP)). Include information such as your child’s likes/dislikes, triggers, behavior challenges, best practices for YOUR child in avoiding and resolving challenging behavior, medication, communication (devices used?), allergies, general strengths and challenges (consider physical, emotional, communication, social).
Check out this option here: https://thepromiseact.org/all-about-me-resource/
Stay positive and continue communication with your child’s care providers.
Discuss a form of daily communication that works for both of you. Decide if verbal communication is ideal or if written communication is better. You could communicate via email or develop a communication log with specific topics you would like to be updated on daily. Topics could include: if/what they ate for lunch, interaction with peers and/or adults, documentation of medication given and notes from the day. You could also add a way for you to easily communicate to the care provider how your child began their day. Be sure to tell them the following: How your child began their day. Be sure to let them know the following: How did they sleep? Did they eat breakfast? Is there a change at home? Was there a meltdown before getting to camp/program?
Tailor this to meet the needs of your child and your communication preference. Most importantly, work together for your child to have the best experience possible.
Tips for Next Year’s Summer Camp
Research inclusive programs.
These programs have experience with children of all abilities. They will be more aware of your child’s needs and have experience in meeting those needs. Ideally, they will also be cultivating a truly inclusive experience. Because these camps are unique and often staffed by highly trained counselors, they tend to fill up early. Be on the lookout for registration dates as early as late December, a full six months before camp!
Communicate early, ask questions, and visit beforehand if possible.
Send an email or call the program to let them know you are interested in sending your child to their camp/program. Ask any and all questions. What will the day look like for your child? What qualifications do the staff have? What kind of medical needs can they accommodate? Trust your gut on if the program would be right for your child.
Be honest about your child’s needs. We know that it is tempting to omit every detail, for fear of discrimination, but the result could be a camp staff that is not prepared to care for your child.*
Prepare your child for summer camp.
Ideally, take your child to visit the program prior to starting. Allow them to meet care providers, explore the new environment, and discuss expectations and routines. If that’s not possible, ask for pictures or video to be sent to you prior to the first day. Discuss with your child what their day will look like and the expectations of the camp/program.
Overall, look for inclusive programs, prepare staff, your child, and yourself, and communicate, communicate, communicate. It is better to over-communicate than under, especially when it comes to our children. It may not be a perfect summer experience, but hopefully, by taking some of these steps, it will be a positive one!
About the Author
Jessica is a special education teacher turned military wife and stay-at-home mom as her little ones grow. She holds a Master’s degree in Special Education and has completed the Master IEP Coach® Mentorship Program. She provides special education coaching and consulting services for families with IEPs, 504s, or those in the evaluation process. She supports parents in becoming the greatest advocate for their children by building collaborative relationships, providing education on strategies for success at school and home, and assisting in transitions. She especially enjoys walking with fellow military families through their child’s educational journey as she fully understands the extra challenges.
Connect with Jessica: successfulhealthychildren.org/special-education-coaching/
Facebook/Instagram at: jmonteverde.iepcoach
*If you feel your child has experienced discrimination on the basis of their disability please contact Partners in PROMISE or your EFMP Office.