Summer camp offers a wonderful opportunity for children to make lasting memories while learning new skills and making new friends. These experiences are important for all children and are particularly enriching for those with special needs. Wisconsin families are fortunate to have many great camps specifically designed for children with varying needs.
Although kids attending these camps experience swim lessons, a hand at basketball and their first time away from home, they also receive so much more. For instance, the campers attending the Summer Camp for Burn Injured Youth (sponsored by the Wisconsin Alliance for Fire Safety) have varying injuries from fire accidents, and get to share experiences with kids just like them.
Daniel Gengler, executive director for the Wisconsin Alliance for Fire Safety, says, “Planning starts well in advance of camp to ensure that each camper from age 7 to 17 and from every degree of healing has the opportunity to grow in spirit, to be able to cope with their injuries and to reach their maximum potential in life.”
Children attending Camp Firefly, a facility designed for kids diagnosed with Asperger’s communication disorders, ADHD, social anxiety and high functioning autism, also receive tremendous benefits. The goal is for all to have fun, experience friendships and have a week in which no one teases them, says Audra Kaplan, clinical psychologist and director of Camp Firefly.
“Campers get to try new activities, such as high ropes, horseback riding and climbing walls. They also experience new independence such as trying new foods and negotiating the dynamics of bunkmates,” she says.
The goal of many of these camps is to make children feel secure and at home. This is achieved by being with people with similar traits and experiences, separate from the judgment of the outside world. At Authentic Voices of America, a camp designed for those with hearing impairments, campers experience being around other AAC (alternative augmentative communications) users. According to Jon A. Feucht, executive director of Authentic Voices of America Inc., this is the first time most of the campers have been around anybody also needing a communication device.
“Quite often, the light goes on and (campers) see that communicating with a communication device can lead to positive life outcomes. They also get a week away from home, and quite often the campers don’t feel like they are disabled,” Feucht says.
Throughout the experience, most directors just want the kids to feel a sense of security. As Feucht says, camp’s family atmosphere provides for the biggest memories. “Authentic Voices of America (and organizations like it) has always been like a family unto itself … when people who have a lot in common come together, a lot of communication and personal growth happens,” he says.
Wisconsin camps for special needs
• Authentic Voices of America provides young people with severe speech impairments the opportunity to enhance their communication skills using augmentative devices. Ages 12–21.
• Camp Daypoint and Camp Needlepoint both serve children with diabetes. Camp Daypoint is a day-camp for ages 5-9. Camp Needlepoint is an overnight camp for ages 8-16. Amid all the fun, campers discover new skills, meet new friends with diabetes and learn respect for others and the outdoors.
• Camp Firefly is specifically designed for children diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, non-verbal learning disorders, executive functioning disorders, severe learning disabilities and ADHD. Ages 9–14.
• Camp Matz serves people with intellectual disabilities by offering a fun, Christian experience and focusing on opportunities for physical, social, emotional and spiritual growth. Ages 8+.
• Camp Pow Wow is committed to accommodating all needs; no one is turned away due to disability or financial circumstances. Ages 5–21.
• Easter Seals Camp Wawbeek works with people with physical and spectrum disabilities, mild to severe cognitive impairments and behavioral and sensory disorders. Ages 7+.
• Easter Seals Respite Camp works one-on-one with individuals with involved physical, emotional, cognitive and behavioral disabilities. Ages 3+.
• One Step at a Time Camp gives kids with cancer and leukemia a chance to experience life in a normal environment. Children lose their inhibitions about hair loss and other kinds of disfigurements, and test the limits of their physical abilities. Ages 8–19.
• Summer Camp for Burn Injured Youths provides fun and opportunities for campers to learn how to cope with physical and emotional healing relating to their injuries. Ages 7–17.
• Timbertop Camp for Children with Learning Disabilities combines traditional camp programs with extra reading practice and special group activities that focus on dealing with learning disabilities. Ages 8–13. Steven Point
• Wisconsin Badger Camp’s mission is to provide a positive natural environment where individuals with developmental challenges can learn realize their full potential. Ages 3–13 and 14–25.
• Wheelchair Basketball Camp offers a variety of sporting activities and instruction with peers and camp staff. Ages 8–18.
• Wisconsin Lions Camp provides a quality free-of-charge to eligible Wisconsin residents who are blind or visually impaired, deaf or hard of hearing, and those with mild cognitive disabilities and diabetes. Ages 6–17.
Elizabeth Braatz is a freelance writer based in Thiensville and the mother of 2-year-old twins, Carter and Emma. She is a boot camp and cycling instructor, avid runner and vegetarian foodie.
This story originally appeared in the March 2012 edition of metroparent magazine.