Friendships, Communication and Connections with Children at Special Needs Summer Camps?
Children with special needs are amazing unique individuals. Each of our campers has their own set of strengths and areas of need. The way that we, as staff, communicate with our campers at Camp Lee Mar, helps them learn how to build connections and friendships themselves. Clear communication helps our campers develop self-esteem and the ability to self-regulate and express their own emotions enabling social and emotional growth. This then sets the stage for many other skills to follow.
For a child to have a positive and life-changing camp experience, choosing the right summer programs for special needs children is essential. The camp staff must be able to develop meaningful relationships with each individual camper. The more the staff know about their campers social and emotional needs, the easier it is for the campers to learn new skills while having an unforgettable summer!
Camp Lee Mar staff are trained to communicate clearly and effectively with our campers. Our staff understand and use the following communication strategies to help our campers become confident communicators.
Be encouraging – Our staff are aware that the key to communication and continuous learning is motivation and encouragement. When our campers work on their daily living skills or social skills, or take on a challenging activity, staff assure they are recognized for that. It may be a “shout-out” during announcements at dinner time, or some 1:1 time with a counselor doing an activity of choice. This helps our campers feel proud of their achievements and motivated to continue to work towards their goals.
Be respectful – Every campers needs to feel respected and that their feelings and opinions matter. Knowing that the staff take the time to listen gives our campers a reason to want to communicate and the opportunity to feel supported and comfortable enough to express their needs. Our campers are given choices so they can see that their efforts in communication directly impact their environment. At Camp Lee Mar we want our campers to feel comfortable making decisions and being able to self-advocate.
Be helpful – Our campers like to be as independent as possible. Staff will oversee and encourage skill building tasks. Staff at Camp Lee Mar will never take over or do something for a camper because they can do it better or faster. Staff know to provide help, support, and supervision, as needed. Our campers know help and assistance is there should they need or request it.
Be direct – One of the quotes we use with our staff during orientation week is “ Say what you mean, and mean what you say” – Our campers do best with direct instructions, stated clearly and repeated if needed. This also provides our campers with a speech model to follow when they need to request items or help
There are many summer programs for special needs children that can help campers build on social skills and self-advocacy skills. Camp Lee Mar is unique because not only do we have a full speech and social skills program as part of each camper’s summer experience, but we also work on these skills in the natural camp environment during the day. This gives our campers the ability to work on needed skills in the speech and social skills center at camp, and then the opportunity to generalize those skills while having fun in the pool, during sports activities or just hanging out with friends!
Written by Lynsey Trohoske
My name is Lynsey Trohoske, I am the assistant director at Camp Lee Mar. I have three amazing children, my middle child happens to be on the autism spectrum and is a camper at Lee Mar. I joined camp as a counselor in 1998 and loved the campers and their families so much that Camp Lee Mar became my second home!