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Summer Camp and Special Needs

 summer camp and special needs

Sunday we dropped our son with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder off for three weeks of summer camp. Three weeks of summer camp for typical kids.

Long breaks from school are hard on my son. The security and sameness of routine at school help organize his thinking. Try as I might to follow a routine here at home (and we do) not everything can stay the same. While there is noise and controlled chaos at school, the kids there aren’t his siblings or family. They have no expectations of him. And if he has a rough day, well, he eventually gets to come home.

Sending my son with special needs to summer camp is a blessing and a challenge.

Long days and weeks at home are too much if he doesn’t get a break. He has a buddy who picks him up for a few hours on Saturdays. They go to the library, play sports or video games or watch movies. His buddy has no expectations of him. They just hang out together, and he gets a break.

Sending my son with special needs to summer camp is a blessing and a challenge.

Last summer our son went to a day camp for “at-risk” kids. It was a mixed bag. He had good days and really, really bad days. He made friends with a couple of rougher kids and typical of kids with FASD, he went along with his friends’ “ideas”. It didn’t end well.* He doesn’t have good judgement or the greatest grasp on cause and effect.

This year, we decided to send him to regular old summer camp. Our son doesn’t cause trouble at school. On his worst days, he goes into “shut down mode” and either refuses to talk of falls asleep. Neither of those are seen as particularly difficult behaviors. A friend (who also has a son with special needs) told me how great this camp was for his son last year.

A few months ago I called the camp and talked to the director. I explained to him about my son, his special needs and his behaviors and they gave me the green light to send him.

Sending my son with special needs to summer camp is a blessing and a challenge.

I saw this cup in the camp bathroom and somehow it struck me as funny…I can’t imagine there are too many moms at summer camp…

I’m not sure how my son feels about summer camp; he’s not much of a conversationalist. He went to Boy Scout camp two years ago and seemed to enjoy it….according to the Scoutmaster.

I learned two thing about my son’s Boy Scout camp experience: 

  1. His foot hurt when he went on a hike.
  2. They went sandboarding. This second piece of information I learned a full year later when we were in Oregon and he saw some people sandboarding.

Conversation isn’t his strong suit. 

I’m happy he’s at camp. I imagine he is having a great time. Swimming! Fishing! Horses! Crafts! Sports!

Seriously, what’s not to love?

But I’m his mom. I’ve cared for him daily for nearly fourteen years and my heart is wrapped up in his. I know I will hear very little if anything about his weeks at camp. I sent him with a disposable camera, so perhaps that will offer some clues. 

For now, I’m torn between worrying about my son and being happy for him.

* The friend my son met, happened to be named Jesus. Which is awesome because we get to make all kinds of jokes about that time he went to camp and met Jesus…how Jesus was a bad influence on him and how much trouble he got in with Jesus. **

** Hey, in our life, it’s laugh or cry, my friends. 



  1. Lisa

    I get this….My son, who has ASD, sounds similar to your son in many ways. We tried regular day camp a couple of years ago – he liked it, but it was “too much”, not enough down time. Social situations are particularly stressful for my guy. I remember saying – if only they had an extra staff, that could just take him away from the group for a few minutes, talk to him, etc. He just needed that little bit of extra support. Thankfully, this year we found a camp that has a “camp within a camp” with exactly that!! Its going great so far! Hope M DOES have a good time and that you actually get to hear about it!

    We also struggled with long breaks at home – summers were the worst. I pulled him out in January to homeschool – he was in an out-of-district placement at the time (his third), and we ran into the same situation of the classmates NOT being a good influence, and pretty sure my guy was also not a good influence on them. He’s thriving in homeschool – I only have 2 kids, though – and we can do it year round so his routine stays the same unless he’s into another activity.

    I don’t comment too much, but I love hearing about your kiddos – especially Avi and Mordecai because their struggles, and yours with them, sound a lot like our family’s. Blessings!

    • Renee

      Thank you for your thoughtful comment! We, of course, would not send him if we thought he wouldn’t be successful (he does quite well in school). But it is still hard not to worry. Homeschooling doesn’t work with my son. Like many kids he works harder and performs better for to her people.

  2. Elizabeth

    I also appreciate your honesty about special needs. We don’t have a diagnosis in my family, which is actually hard sometimes. You want to treat the child or teen normally, you want to live “normally” but why then does the interactions seem so hard, hurtful, and not normal?? Your special needs that you are parenting are much more severe, so though I understand a bit, I also know I am in a easier situation.

    Is there camp counselors you can talk to afterward to find out some of what he did and how he did? It would be hard to not know anything about your “baby” after he had been gone for 3 weeks!

    • Renee

      I’m not sure if I will be able to talk to counselors at the end of camp…I’m pretty sure I can email and check on him, though. In this case I think no news is good news.

  3. musherpeg

    I am certain he will have an incredible time and will blossom in unexpected way. I worked in summer camps for many years and the kids who had special needs like your son usually had an incredible time. There were rough spots of course but that goes for every child. I just pray the counselors don’t teach him the song, “This is the song that never ends…..” for the ride home! LOL

    • Renee

      I really do think he will do just fine and have a fabulous time (even if I never hear about it). But he requires so much advocating and help its nearly impossible not to worry about him a bit.

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