The benefits of camp for special needs kids – how Camp Lee Mar is like a college experience.
There are so many benefits to an overnight camp experience for all children! Camp helps kids learn to be independent, to adjust to being away-from-home, and to help learn to voice their wants and needs while self-advocating. Camp lets kids practice being away from home in a safe supportive environment. Campers (and their families) learn that it is okay to feel a little homesick (or miss your child) but that the camp community, structure, special events, friendships and daily activities help to support them during their initial sleep-away adjustment period.
We also live in a time when it is hard to let our children be “away” and know that they are safe. This also has an impact on our children as this can suggest to them that they are only safe when they are with parents. For our campers at Camp Lee Mar with special needs there are also additional layers of parental concerns such as camper communication deficits, having new people understand the routines that make our campers feel secure, and understanding how vulnerable our campers can be. However, these concerns are counter-balanced with the knowledge that as parents we will not be around forever to “protect” our children so we need them to have life experiences that will help them grow in confidence and independence so that they can live productive, fulfilling lives within their communities.
So how is summer camp for special needs kids like a college experience?
Many of our campers may not go on to have the traditional college experience, but the experience and skills gained at Camp Lee Mar can provide many of the same benefits and help bridge the gap to independent adult living.
Going to college creates the following challenges for young adults to overcome:
- Being away from home and your direct support system. Being away from family, friends and being pushed out of our comfort zone.
- Being able to deal with change and uncertainty. Fitting into and understanding a whole new living and school/working environment.
- Being able to adapt to a new academic workload.
Attending Camp Lee Mar addresses all three of these challenges head on:
- Independence away from home. Our campers become confident in their abilities and learn to adapt to new support systems at camp. Our campers know they can be safe and supported away from home.
- Structure and change. Although our camp program is very structured our campers have to adjust to a lot of changes during the first week of camp; meeting new counselors, new peers, getting used to a new camp schedule and a little social uncertainty while making new friends. This makes our campers much more confident and resilient, and more able to adapt to changes outside the camp environment.
- Being able to adapt to a new “workload”. Our campers have a full speech, academic and job training program; however, a large amount of the social growth happens in the natural camp environment. Our campers do not get “time off” each week like the staff do, our campers are in a seven week fully immersive social setting that requires them to use all the social skills they have and pushes them to develop new skills. This is all done in a supportive, fun atmosphere while pushing the campers to new levels of independence.
So when considering a camp for special needs kids like Camp Lee Mar, think of the program as being like an early intervention to adult life. An amazing summer experience that allows children and teenagers to “spread their wings” and develop their daily living skills, self-esteem and self-advocacy in a supported setting. Camp Lee Mar enables children and teenagers to experience successful independence away from home.
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!