Princeton Speech & Language Center
Agoratus, Lauren, The Exceptional Parent
This was the first year I had to find a summer program for my daughter Stephanie. Previously, she had been in year-round early intervention programs and then nursery school summer camps. I thought we might be in trouble when the special camp recommended by Stephanie's special education teacher turned her down. I KNEW we were in trouble when other special needs camps did too. I ended up calling 23 lists/resources before we found a few that said yes. Stephanie had just received an additional diagnosis of Asperger Syndrome, a pervasive developmental disorder in the autism spectrum. We had known about her kidney disease since birth, which also made it hard to find placements. With the dual diagnosis we met with an interesting dilemma: the camps that had medically fragile children were hesitant about her challenging behaviors; the camps for children with autism were fearful of her medical condition. Other limitations were that we needed to have a day (not overnight) program, clean indoor restrooms, no swimming, and limits on sunlight exposure due to both photosensitivity from antibiotics and risk of dehydration.
Stephanie's case manager, Beth Parry, of Special Child Health Services, recommended that we call the state and county office on disabilities. She also sent us lists and gave us places to call. One local paper, the Princeton Packet, put out an annual list of camps, which included accessibility issues. Lastly, the American Camping Association has a national listing, which also includes camps based on specific conditions. Then we had to get creative. We called disability-specific organizations; for example, the National Kidney Foundation and COSAC (Center for Outreach and Services for the Autism Community), which had a NJ statewide listing of camps for children with autism. I also called all of the special schools in the yellow pages to see if they had summer programs. To get organized, I made up an index card for each local camp with just the name and phone number. I called each and explained our situation. I kept them in alphabetical order so when people called back I could find their card quickly. I was surprised to find that camps were filling up and that the best time to call is March or before! We visited each camp that said yes (it was nice to have a choice, though limited) and narrowed it down to two. …