|As I write this article, my children are only two weeks shy of their school term ending.
Gone are the thoughts of studying for tests, keeping grades up, or anything remotely related to education.
At this time of year, my normally responsible children turn into entirely different creatures. These creatures are governed by a sophisticated system that allows them to function on auto-pilot. They go to school, but manage not to absorb anything. Their brains become highly focused and can only concentrate on one subject: Summer Vacation.
Interestingly enough, this time of year also causes a similar shift in parental behavior. We too are focusing on summer vacation, but for entirely different reasons. We choose to focus on the anxiety provoking issues:
- What do we do with our darlings now that school is over?
- Should they stay home or attend summer camp?
- How do I evaluate a summer program?
- Where can I find good child care?
If you are the parent of a special needs child, summer can present an even greater challenge. Not all programs have the facilities to accept a child with a disability, and sadly, not all programs feel comfortable in attempting to meet the needs of these children.
So where you do begin?
In my opinion, the best place to start planning your childs summer is with your child.
School aged children can be quite verbal about their likes and dislikes. While you may think that opera camp is a once in a lifetime experience, your child may have a very different opinion on the subject. A family meeting can do wonders for reducing stress.
The next step is to gather information. In Orlando, our local newspaper publishes a directory of summer programs. Our local mall also hosts a camp fair. If your city does not have these resources available, there are many other options. Check with your childs school or your place of worship. Many times these facilities will, either know of, or host summer programs. If your area has a college, museum, or art facility, this may be another summer option.
If you are new to an area, word of mouth may be an excellent way to find a summer camp. Ask your neighbors, or childs classmates where they go for the summer. Some of our best leads have come from friends or acquaintances.
As the parent of a special needs child, we have also found valuable resources through local organizations. This summer, our youngest will have the opportunity to attend summer camp through our local autism society. The camp will also include typical peers. We feel comfortable because we know that this camp will give our son the ability to spread his wings in a safe structured environment. We also know that the staff is professionally trained to meet the needs of children with autism. To us, the peace of mind is priceless.
After you and your child have waded through the information and narrowed down the list, the time has come to thoroughly check out each program. Here are several questions to keep in mind:
- Is the facility licensed?
- How do you screen your staff?
- Do you do background checks?
- What is the child/counselor ratio?
- Are meals and snacks provided?
- What does a typical day consist of?
- Is there any flexibility to the schedule?
- Are there any trips?
- How do you accommodate special needs: Food allergies, disabilities, etc.?
- How do you handle emergencies?
- Are you affiliated with any organizations?
- Will the camp provide references?
- Is before and after care available?
Dont be afraid to ask too many questions. Your sanity and your childs safety are the most important priorities. A good program will welcome your input. Most importantly, trust your instincts. If a program doesnt feel right to you, walk away and find another camp.
The next step is to match up a program with your own familys schedule and finances. Our boys often have to attend separate camps because of their differing ages and abilities. As a result, we have had to pass up on many wonderful programs because we had to be at different camps at the same time. In the same respect, we have also had to inform our older son that we found six hundred dollars a wee bit too much to spend for one week of camp.
As you can see, summertime calls for a radical shift in scheduling strategy. It often requires far more planning, because not all summer programs run for the whole summer. My own childrens schedule often resembles a jigsaw puzzle: two weeks at art camp, a week at karate camp, and so on. We spend the entire summer wallpapered in bright yellow sticky notes in an effort to keep each childs schedule straight. For us, the effort is worth it because our kids are happy. We have respected their needs without sacrificing the needs of the family. Who could ask for anything more?
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