There are so many camp choices for children with disabilities! From highly specialized camps to general inclusion programs, there are options for every child. With thorough research, you should be able to find the right camp for your child.

The American Camp Association makes it easy to find a great camp – they have an online listing of special-needs camps that is categorized by types of camps, cost, length of stay, state/region and age.

Extended School Year Services (ESY) is an alternative to summer camp. ESY is for students with an Individualized Education Program (IEP) who need additional school days to receive a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) and prolonged periods of time off will have a negative impact on them. The summer course work is offered in accordance with the students IEP and at no cost to the parents of the child. It must also meet the standards of the State Educational Authority.  ESY usually runs half a day for four weeks.

Need more help in your camp selection? Special Needs Kids Info offers an excellent list of questions to ask during your research!

“She is a tree of life for those who hold fast to her, and happy are those who support her.”

Pirkei Avot - Ethics of the Fathers 3:18

For most school districts, the decision on whether to have a child attend ESY is determined at the child’s annual review meeting for the IEP.  The criterion for whether the student requires ESY usually connects to academic regression due to the prolonged absence from school.  Students with special needs struggle without the structure of a set school schedule.  Most out of district programs recommend ESY as well as in district self-contained classrooms.

There are several summer camps that have programs for children with special needs. JCC Camps at Medford has its Open Hearts/Open Doors (OH/OD) Program, which provides accommodations in order for children with disabilities to fully participate with age-appropriate peers. We have had success working with children with a wide range of disabilities including Autism, ADHD, Downs Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, and more.

Campers in our Open Hearts/ Open Doors program are placed in groups according to grade and gender along with their typical peers.  The majority of our OH/OD participants receive one-on-one assistance, though some share assistance with other campers.  Integrated within camp, a trained shadow (advocate) helps each child fully maximize his/her experience.  These advocates are hired and trained directly by the JCC Camps at Medford, and there is no additional cost to camp families.  All staff at camp also receive training from our Open Hearts/Open doors team about creating an inclusive camp experience.