Summer Programs For Kids With Special Needs – How we help our campers cope with transitions.
Change and transitions can be hard for everyone! Times of change and transition can be stressful and difficult especially for children with special needs and their families.
A camper who craves stability and routine can take a while to readjust to a new or different situation. A new counselor, new camp, or new friends are not always easy transitions to make for those who crave routine and sameness. At Camp Lee Mar we encourage our campers to deal with transition or change in a positive and healthy way. We want each opportunity to develop transition and coping skills at camp and be presented in ways that encourage success for our campers. To do this we are constantly aware of the following points during our day-to-day schedule:
- Triggers – Our staff start by observing our campers very carefully for signs of distress around transition times in the camp program. If there is difficulty with a particular transition we look at what kinds of things trigger the overload or outbursts. Is it the new activity specifically or the change itself? We look at factors such as sensory needs and time management. Are everyone’s sensoryneeds being met and cared for to prepare for the change? Was enough transition time/warning time given for the camper to process and be prepared for the upcoming transition?
If it is a new or unfamiliar camp activity that is causing the resistance? Staff talk about it with the camper, set participation expectations for the activity, and help the camper to become more comfortable attempting something new. If it’s the change, the camper may need a longer transition period or warning to feel more in control.
- Structure and routine – Structure and routine can be the opposite of change, but can actually be the foundation to work on transitions and change in a familiar environment. If a camper feels that they are supported and safe within the structure of camp, they are less stressed and more open to schedule changes and being flexible.
- Transition time – At camp we use visual schedules, timers and verbal reminders throughout the camp program to give adequate transition time.
- Being consistent – By keeping our camp routines consistent we reduce anxiety in our campers who are resistant to change. The security, consistency, and normalcy provided throughout the structure of the camp day are what create confidence and an openness to change, transition and flexibility.
- Our staff are calm and patient – Our staff help our campers adjust to transitions by remaining calm and patient. We remind our campers of the schedule and talk about what is first, next and so on. At camp we have more time to work on “bumps in the road” during transition periods. Unlike the home environment, we do not have other responsibilities such as getting siblings to school or getting to work on time. If a camper needs more time or practice with a skill, we can take the time to work on that skill or transition.
- Focus on the good – We focus on the positive! Staff point out the easy transition times when a camper has transitioned well. We give evening announcement shout outs to acknowledge our campers triumphs throughout the day. We make sure to accent the positive. Even if a camper is really struggling, we acknowledge areas that the camper is skilled in, things s/he enjoys, and moments when s/he has succeeded. This helps our campers build their self-esteem and self-confidence, to keep trying transitions and new activities , knowing that everyone has areas of strength and areas they need to work on.
This positive approach is what allows our campers to enjoy our summer programs for kids with special needs while gaining the skills needed to adapt to change and transitions in their home and school life.
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!