Setting Your Exceptional Kids Up for Summer Camp Success

Reminiscing on summer camp as an adult, it was one of the most memorable times of my childhood. Team activities, art crafts, and songs galore always had me wanting to go back year after year. After having kids of my own, I wanted these same experiences for my daughter, but quickly realized what if camp isn’t for everyone? Could we give her the tools to enjoy camp?

Constant stimulation, loud music, and team games are three of the most overwhelming activities for my daughter, yet she continually asks if we have signed her up for summer camp because wants to participate. I know the experience is challenging for her, but we praise her courage and perseverance to try, try again. Instead of taking the easy road and throwing the towel in, I do my best pre, during, and post camp to help set her up with the tools she needs to enjoy the day. We take one day at a time in hopes of giving her the best experience she can have.

Here are a few tips to help guide your child’s summer camp experience:

Prior to camp sign up

Discuss with the camp directors about how your child may need a little extra support and some of the challenges they may face. It is imperative to discuss with the camp ahead of time so they can also prepare. Majority of local camps in Kansas City are overly accommodating and are eager to go above and beyond for kids to have the best time possible. I find it is better to over inform directors and staff than to under inform them of any potential situations. Confirm with them they are OK with you sending fidgets/headphones and/or with your child having “brain breaks.” If the camp cannot accommodate your child due to special needs, there are always other inclusive camps in the area.

Prepare for Camp

Overly inform you child on what to expect. Watch videos, look at pictures, drive to the camp location so they can look around. Discuss all the potential activities ahead of time and let them ask questions. Remind them that if they need to take a “brain break” or a “time out,” they can let their camp leader know.

What to Pack

Sitting still and listening to instructions isn’t a task easily performed by our daughter. In their backpack, send a few fidget toys or comfort item in case they are feeling anxious or extra wiggly. I remind the staff that these items are for comfort and not for distraction. Advise the staff on what works best for your child when having to sit and listen and that standing in the back may be easier for them than sitting crisscross applesauce.

Just in Case

Loud noises or music can cause agitation and irritability. We use “special headphones” she can put on if she is feeling like the noise is bothering her. She uses these few and far between, but it’s better to be prepared.

Camp week

Arrive at camp early, walk them to their group, and prepare to stay for a bit in case they are feeling uncomfortable. Reiterate to the staff the special items in their backpack and the needed flexibility to take breaks. Ask for the schedule for the day, and let them know it is imperative to tell your child what is coming. The transition of the unknown or a quick change in schedule can throw off the rest of the day. Give the staff your phone number if they need immediate assistance or have questions throughout the day.

During and Post Camp

The week of camp, don’t set expectations for your child. Yes, we have signed up for camp and only attended 1.5 days. Focus on the positives of attending, even if it is just for one day. Your child went outside their comfort zone and tried something new. Praise them over and over for being so brave and being a rockstar.

Sure, it would be a much easier to skip summer camp, but the joy on her face is worth all the preparation. Supporting and including exceptional kids is important in our community in all activities.

Let’s continue the conversation. What do you do with your child to encourage a great camp experience?

I am a mom of two girls, 3 & 6 and a boy arriving in June as well as our fur-baby, Walter. I've been married to my southern raised, patient and silly husband for 8 years. Born and raised in Kansas City, I am naturally an avid Chiefs fan. I am the Director of E-Commerce & Retail at J. Rieger & Co. distillery and thoroughly enjoy being a full time-working mom. I am an open book and hope that my real stories of what works for our family and the raw emotions that come with each of life's curve balls helps guide other families along their journey. Being a Mom of two wildly active girls, one whose spirit needs some extra attention, I am currently navigating child advocacy and support for parents who lean on professional resources for children with behavioral disorders. I love getting lost in the kitchen or a book, going on walks and spending time with friends & family.