Find a Chicago camp for your child with special needs

Who cares if the snow is still flying? It’s time to consider summer camp options for your child. The Chicago area is teeming with day, overnight and away camp choices, assuring something for everyone regardless of age, ability, interest or budget. Tucked inside all the fun is an abundance of benefits, especially for children with special needs.

Consider these important benefits of a summer camp experience:

Exercise and sports-related activities like swimming, tennis, games and wheelchair races increase fitness levels and promote physical well-being, helping to decrease childhood obesity.

Meeting new kids in a positive environment often leads to friendships that last long after camp ends. Trying new programs and activities such as photography, drama and crafts leads to increased self-confidence and pride in achievement. Away or overnight camps especially foster independence as children enjoy camping, hikes, nature activities and learn to do more things without the help of a parent or sibling.

Social benefits abound, as camps often include free time, dances, informal games and general opportunities for kids to squabble, laugh, play and just be kids. A five-day-a-week, multi-week experience is often credited with keeping a child’s skills strong between June and the return to school in September.

Registration is already under way for many camps. Since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, all camps must make reasonable accommodations so that children with special needs can attend. Thirty years ago, before the passage of the ADA, most parents felt lucky if there was even one camp that met their child’s needs. Today the choices are plentiful, including specialized camps designed just for children with a particular need (asthma, spina bifida, cerebral palsy, cancer, etc.), and also general camps that may be geared to kids with special needs, including kids who have learning or behavioral problems, kids with specific chronic illnesses, and kids with mental or physical impairments. Now, thanks to the ADA, any camp can be a possibility with the right supports, staff training and planning.

Whether it is a day experience nearby or a week-long away camp, your local special recreation association, park district, village, church, private or nonprofit disability agency are all options to seek. The best fit for you and your child is out there.

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