Disabled camping provides life changing experiences for thousands of special needs children every year. Often, special needs camping is assumed to be respite care, benefitting only caregivers of disabled children.  Special needs is much more.  It is where children with disabilities increase their sense of adventure, optimism, self-reliance, and ambition.  Here is how the Camp Wamp experience prepares children for their future.

“There aren’t a lot of camps that my daughter could go to. Not only is she welcomed at Camp Wamp, she loves it. “ – Camp Wamp Parent 2018

Adventure

“The outdoor ruggedness of the camp gives a chance to grow and be influenced by nature itself; add good people and amazing things can happen.” – Camp Wamp Parent 2018

Children flourish with risks, because they learn and grow from failures.

Disability summer camps offer a plethora of opportunities for children to take safe, measured and controlled risks.  Special needs summer camp offers a unique opportunity for children to step away from their every day stressors and expectations.  It allows them to explore who they are as individuals. They begin to increase their independence as they embrace increased responsibility for themselves and their decisions. For many children with disabilities, summer camp is the first place where they are afforded these experiences.

Optimism

“He experienced and enjoyed a rugged camping experience. He fought through the mental hardships with your help and has dealt better with every difficulty since. He enjoyed the people he met but the experience seemed to mature him. Thank you.” – Camp Wamp Parent 2018

Why do some people succeed and others fail?  Many experts will tell you the short answer is grit.

Angela Duckworth states,“Grit depends on a different kind of hope. It rests on the expectation that our own efforts can improve our future.”

It would be difficult for parents or schools to create experiences that would rival those of summer camp when it comes to increasing grit. At camp, children try, fail, and try again. They learn to work through the discomfort of failure with the support of their counselors. Their counselors serve as impartial, positive role models who do not carry the knowledge of the camper’s history.  They do not know if the camper failed school, or was the star athlete last year. Rather, counselors live in the moment with their campers, helping them face each challenge as they strive to reach their goals.

Self-Reliance

“She loves to have opportunities to meet new friends and to exercise independence in varying ways. Her newfound love of sleeping under the stars makes me smile every time I think of it.” – Camp Wamp Parent 2018

In her May 2019 article, Why Teens Need Summer Camp More Than Ever, Audrey Monke states, “Teens also develop other important life skills at camp, including independence, responsibility, and decision- making. Teens grow considerably in an environment away from their parents where they are forced to live on their own and find their own resources.”

Parents are the best at knowing what their children are great at, while children are fantastic at taking their parents’ praise with a grain of salt. When a counselor provides a camper with specific praise and feedback, it increases the camper’s perceived self-confidence and self-competence. What children need from their parents, rather than continuous praise, is acknowledgement that it is okay to fail, and encouragement to try again.

Ambition

“Kids of all ages with disabilities need to meet others like themselves to confirm they are normal and can do anything they enjoy.” – Camp Wamp Parent 2018

Children need not look far to find many inappropriate role models in the media. Camps for children with disabilities offer an antidote to the inundation of negativity and lack of representation special children see every day. Camps are full of role models just like your child. They are trustworthy, professional, hard- working, young adults who allow campers to find empowerment through connection.

Often, children spend most of their formative years in the same neighborhood, activities, and school. This reduces the diversity of their daily interactions. Camps allow children to form bonds with a new and diverse set of people. They learn by mirroring the interactions of both their peer group and their counselors. They have time to absorb new group norms.

Connection creates an atmosphere where campers can let go of the stressors of everyday life and see themselves clearly. It begets new curiosities, hobbies, and passions. It allows campers to look beyond jobs for people with disabilities to find careers. It is connection that allows campers the freedom to express who they are and chase their dreams. Connection is what summer camps for children with special needs do best.

Happy Camping!

Annie “Doc”Warner