In our schools, most of us are considered misfits. We are often ignored, mistreated, teased, or overlooked. Each of us struggles with something—physical, emotional, mental—that makes us just a little different than others. Sometimes a lot different. But here, we were awesome, we were noble, we were able, and we were cool!– Melody describes her camp experience in “Out of My Heart”
Melody, the vibrant protagonist of Sharon M. Draper’s middle-grade novel “Out of My Heart,” is often excluded and overlooked. She finds it difficult to make friends and participate in school activities because her peers and teachers have trouble seeing past her wheelchair and AAC.
When Melody finds out about a nearby sleepaway camp conceived for kids with a range of abilities, she persuades her parents to allow her to attend. It’s a stretch experience that ends up exceeding her expectations, largely because of the camp’s mission to provide the quintessential camp experience for kids who are so often left out. It is also a testament to Melody’s self-advocacy, willful independence, and supportive parents.
While this is a work of fiction, the premise is realistic.
The benefits of a camp experience that meets a child’s needs and goals — like making friends around the campfire or trying new activities — should not be underestimated. Camps can be seen as a rite of passage for kids, a step toward independence. They provide enrichment, a chance to build social skills, exercise, a way to try new things without fully committing to a new hobby or sport, and a welcome break from the typical day-to-day school life.
According to a study by Lieberman et al., camps can also support the Expanded Core Curriculum: assistive technology (AT), career education, compensatory skills, independent living, orientation and mobility (O&M), recreation and leisure, self-determination, sensory efficiency skills, and social interaction.
However, it can be daunting to find the right program.
Sometimes we may advocate for accommodations in a mainstream setting, other times we may enroll our children in programs that specialize in meeting unique needs. Either way, it takes a significant amount of research to identify flexible and supportive opportunities.
Here are some ideas for researching camps and activities, communicating about your child’s needs, and preparing your child for meaningful participation.
“My daughter attends a camp for children with various needs. [It is] provided with her IEP, and they offer OT, PT, and speech. The majority of the staff are either special education teachers, support staff, or college students studying this field. We are very blessed to have this available in our community.” – Rachelle, CVI parent
You may want to ask about scheduling, environmental accessibility, accreditations, counselor experience, willingness to accommodate specific needs, camper-counselor ratios, behavior and bullying policies, commitments to diversity and inclusion, or experience with campers with disabilities.
“My daughter just attended an adventure camp for kids with blindness and low vision. We prepared by looking at the camp website to see what it looked like, and what kind of activities they had. We also talked about how it would be at night (she is night blind)… We looked at maps to see where the camp was and what the weather would be like. We also had a Zoom meeting with one of the camp leaders so that she already knew who was going to pick her up from the airport and take her to the camp.”
– Tonny, CVI parent
“My daughter attended a STEM camp and, though it was very hands-on, the camp relied on a workbook. Because the program was hosted at our school, the leader worked with the materials specialist to recreate the workbook according to my daughter’s visual needs. If they hadn’t offered this, I probably would have asked for a digital copy to adjust on an iPad. In hindsight, it would have been helpful to preview the activities by showing her objects that represented the images in the book, for example, a miniature rocket or a lever.”
– Dan, CVI parent
“I typically just remind my daughter to advocate for herself if she needs assistance. [For example], if the lettering is too small for her to read, she will ask for it to be made larger or read to her. If she is confused or unfocused, she will say so. I tell her people do not know what you need unless you tell them.”
– Rachelle, CVI parent
“We’re gearing up for new sports this summer — golf and swimming — and have enjoyed researching how they are accomplished for the visually impaired in the professional world… For golf, in particular, I was able to contact a blind golf champion, and he offered to do a Zoom call with our First Tee (pee wee golf) coach to get everyone off on the right foot.”
– Abby, CVI parent
Though you will find few programs already prepared to work with children with CVI, there are many ways to facilitate meaningful experiences that fulfill your child’s needs — and it’s well worth the effort.
From Melody in “Out of My Heart”
“In the middle of all that noise and excitement, I glanced around and couldn’t help but grin. All around me were kids screaming with passion, screeching with excitement, and sweating in the summer heat — playing a game with crazy rules and cheering for each other to win. And I was right there in the middle of it — I might even be a key player! For just a second, I let my mind drift back to the playground at school, where my classmates would play stuff like four square or Heads Up or whatever they felt like. I was, of course, never included. I sat under a nearby tree and watched them scream and run and giggle. It never occurred to me that I could play too. Not once.”
Additional Camp RESOURCES AND OPPORTUNITIES