How to make summer camp work with special needs

Youth Camp 2011

Logan left for Student Life  camp at Stetson University  this morning.  This is his second year attending Student Life but his fifth year of church camp.  The three year prior he attended Centri Kid camp at Eckerd College.  That thought just blows my mind.  That I would be able to send him away from me or Michael for a week.  That doesn’t mean that there isn’t a ton of prep work involved in sending him or that sometimes I have to coach the chaperones through a meltdown on the phone. There are definitely several things that can be done to insure success. Having a very supportive church that wants to see your child succeed as much as you do is invaluable!

First, you have to know the chaperones personally.  This makes you more comfortable sending your child.  I always find out the chaperones in advance and inform Logan.  He knows in advance of who will be responsible for him and can voice any of his concerns to me at that time.  Not that he ever has but we do talk at length about his thoughts about the chaperones, especially the male ones.  Usually, they are familiar with Logan and his special needs but not always.  This year only one male chaperone has worked with Logan for any period of time.  I trust him even though he is quite young.  Thankfully, the female chaperones are with them except at night. They have shown the ability to handle Logan in the past.

Sometimes, you have to send them with chaperones that aren’t  intimately familiar with your child.  I will never forget the year Logan called from camp on the first night to come home.  Wherever he was, it was so loud that I couldn’t hear him talk.  I had to ask him to step out of the room.  When he did, it was quickly apparent that he had left his ear plugs in the room and the chaperones didn’t want to go back for them.  One quick call to the children’s minister at our church and crisis was averted. In the chaperone’s defense, they weren’t familiar with autism until they met Logan.  It was a new experience for them to be sure.  That was a tough week for Logan though.  I inadvertently set him up for failure from the beginning. Madison had received an above ground pool for her birthday the day before he left for camp.  Naturally, he wanted to come home to play with Madison.  It was a tough lesson to teach , both for him and me.  I learned my lesson that week.  Now I know the chaperones in advance and make sure they know Logan and his needs.

Having someone else familiar with the chaperones that can call and speak for your child is imperative.  You may have made the same suggestion but sounded like an over protective mom. A neutral third party can ease the tension as well, especially if it’s a difficult situation or one that was caused by chaperone.  Most of these situations can be avoided if the chaperone has worked with your child in the past.  That is always my first choice.

Let’s not underestimate the power of the other kids in the group.  The kids in our youth group are nothing short of amazing.  They all know Logan and his triggers.  They know how to “talk him off the ledge” and calm him. You have to watch out for the kids who know the triggers and purposely push him over the edge. We have one of them in our youth group. That warrants a conversation with the chaperones to be sure they are aware of this occurrence.  For the most part, the other kids usually help Logan navigate the scene successfully.  It pays to have the other kids look out for your special needs kid.  Those relationships are well worth the hassle and work they usually entail.  I feel perfectly comfortable with Logan hanging out with these kids.  I know they will look out for Logan/

Logan is past needing to visit a place beforehand. We haven’t done that in years but I certainly would do it if it was necessary.  You know what your child needs in order to be successful.  It can be seem like a lot of work.  In the end, the experience your child will have is well worth all the inconvenience and hassle.  Don’t feel bad if you have to go pick up your child early though.  Sometimes all the prep work in the world can’t prepare your child for sensory overload.  Better to go get him and try again next year then to leave him and everyone have a terrible time.  I want these summer camp memories to be special to Logan.  My wish is that he will look fondly back at them and smile.  That makes all this work well worth my time.