Summer Options for Children with Special Needs

 April 4, 2013
Posted by M&LAdmin4

Thursday, April 4th, 2013

Brace yourselves, parents – summer vacation is coming! In just a few short months June will be here and, before you know it, your house will be full of children anxious to celebrate their two, golden months of freedom.

For many parents, these two months represent a lot of additional work – summer vacation brings with it worries regarding organizing child care, summer camps, and daily activities for their children. For parents of children with special needs, these worries are amplified. Many children with special needs are often anxious regarding change, and require stability and structure in their daily routine in order to thrive. Additionally, it is important to ensure that children with special needs don’t lose valuable skills they acquired throughout the year during the natural educational regression that children experience while away from school.

So, how do families with special needs cope with these increased worries and demands during the summer period? We feel the solution is, of course, proper planning! Here at M&L Special Needs Planning, we approach summer vacation the same way every year– with a white board calendar, a number of different colored dry erase markers, and a list of important dates. These dates can include vacation days for you and your partner, statutory holidays, family commitments, etc. Using one color for each family member, pencil in this information on your calendar. If a family vacation comprises a large part of the summer plans for you and your children, our blog Vacation Tips for Families with Special Needs  offers as few suggestions as to how to plan a great family vacation.

Now that you have a visual of the summer schedule for your family, you can begin planning your children’s activities in earnest. For many parents, summer camp (either a day camp or a sleep away camp) is the obvious option. If a summer camp seems like the best option for your child with special needs, check out the Family Village website – it is a great resource of special needs camps in the United States. The website includes a brief description of each camp and a link to each camp’s individual website. Another great resource is – this site offers search options depending on the gender, age and interests of your child. Getting recommendations from local special needs organizations, parents of your child’s classmates, or your child’s school are also a great ways to find special needs summer camps – and if those giving the recommendation are familiar with your child’s needs and interests, so much the better.

For camps that aren’t specifically designed for children with special needs, your local Parks and Recreation Department is a good place to start looking – a quick Google search should reveal the websites for the various Parks and Recreation Departments in your state and town. Please click here to see a listing for Maryland.  As well, country clubs, schools, and universities in the area may offer great summer day programs. If you do decide to opt for a mainstream camp, it is a good idea to research the facilities and staff of the camps being considered, to ensure that the camp you choose is a good fit for the needs of your child. Shawna Ackerman has put together a great list of considerations and questions to ask yourself, and the camp, in regards to their ability to care for your special needs child. Click here to access the checklist that she has put together.  If you are not sure whether to send your child to a camp for children with special needs or not, check out this article on, which outlines the pros and cons of a camp for special needs.

For some families, a camp may not be the best option. If your child thrives on stability and security, live in or drop in child care providers may be a better option for you. If this is the case, you may wish to research daily activities that your child care provider can bring your child to. Again, the local Parks and Recreation Department is a great resource, as well as local swimming pools, country clubs, YMCAs, and child care facilities. As well, check with your local library. They may offer summer reading and socialization programs designed to keep children reading during the break and if not, a trip to the library on a rainy afternoon is an excellent way for your child to continue developing literacy and socialization skills.

The best possible schedule for your summer will probably be a combination of camp, daily activities, family vacation, and live in or drop in child care. Ensure that your child with special needs is aware of the schedule for the summer – discussing plans, researching camps and activities with your child and enlisting your child’s help in planning his or her summer can help to alleviate anxiety about the transition from the school environment.

Quick Ideas for Summer Planning

  • Contact your child’s school for recommendations on summer activities; some schools for special education offer their own summer camp programs or summer sessions.
  • Speak to parents of your child’s classmates regarding their summer plans. Signing your child up for a summer camp or activity that a classmate is attending may give them a feeling of stability, and lessen anxiety.
  • Suggest scheduling play dates with your children’s classmates during a time of the summer when you child won’t be occupied with camp or other activities. Play dates can help your child socialize and retain ties with classmates, with the added benefit of sharing childcare among parents
  • Contact the special education department of a local university or college; students may wish to obtain employment during the summer months, and their education and experience will benefit your child and your family.
  • Check with your child’s doctor, therapist, or the members of any organizations for special needs that your or your family is familiar with. They may be aware of a great program that would suit the interests of your child, or be able to recommend a child care provider who has experience working with children with special needs.

If you have any suggestions or questions on planning a summer schedule, or any other special needs planning topic, don’t hesitate to drop us a line! You may also wish to check out our services page, or look for any free workshops we have scheduled to take place over the summer months. We are always looking for new venues to present our workshops, so if you are interested in having us deliver a workshop in your area, let us know – we love meeting new people, and we are willing to travel.

Thanks to all of you for taking the time from your busy schedule to read our blog today; hopefully we have provided you with some good ideas, and a plan of action for organizing your family’s summer schedule. Have a great weekend!

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