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When choosing a camp, start by assessing your child’s needs against the camp’s ability to accommodate them. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, camps that operate as a business should already have supportive infrastructure in place, like wheelchair ramps or strobed fire alarms. Camps may also provide a helper to children who need assistance with things such as mobility or communication, although the ADA does not require such care. If you think a camp is a good fit for your kiddo, minus one or two challenges with regard to your child’s disability, give them a call to see what can be done to ensure the experience ends up positive for everyone.
If the needs of your camper exceed the abilities of average camps to be inclusive, consider camps that specialize in working with individuals with special needs. These camps typically employ a credentialed staff that could include on-site medical professionals, therapists, ASL translators and other more specialized positions.
Woodland Park’s Colorado Lions Camp is one of those specialized camps, providing individuals with disabilities the opportunity to have an authentic camping experience that fosters independence and confidence. Executive director Jodi Franke-Young says they welcome those who might have any of the following: Down syndrome, autism spectrum disorder, Asperger’s syndrome, sensory processing disorder, developmental delays, intellectual challenges, blindness or visual impairment, deafness or hearing impairment, physical disabilities and mental disorders. The minimum age to attend is 8, and there is no maximum.
The team at Lions Camp includes nurses, activity specialists, counselors, counselors-in-training and many volunteers. Campers are able to enjoy all of the same activities going on in nearby camps, such as horseback riding, swimming, archery, acting, canoeing and campfires. They can also learn how to cook, practice yoga, dance and participate in drum circles. The camp operates nine sessions in the summer, separating sessions by age and other factors.
“I am inspired by the campers we serve and the staff I have the privilege to work alongside,” says Franke-Young. “Seeing a camper try new activities and succeeding in developmental goals is just as inspiring as mentoring staff who have a life-changing experience from working with the program.”
Once a camp has been selected, parents can let their child know what to expect. “Parents or caregivers can prepare their loved ones for camp by talking to them about what type of activities they will participate in,” Franke-Young explains. She recommends sharing the schedules, the sleeping arrangements and any other information your child might be concerned about. Colorado Lions Camp offers weekend respite camps, a great introduction to the program. Doing a trial run with your child might help in assuaging any concerns they might have.
If cost, timing or other challenges make longer camps difficult, reach out to local disability advocacy organizations for ideas. The Resource Exchange in Colorado Springs, for example, can connect you with community resources, other families like yours and even respite care options for families. Whichever path you choose for a summer camp experience, rest assured your already-awesome child will come away even more so when school begins in the fall.