Why This Mama Loves Summer Camps for Special Needs Kids {For the Kids & for the Parents}

by GfG on July 10, 2014 · 1 comment

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I shared a week ago about why I think young people should work at a summer camp for children with special needs.  Today, I’d like to share a different perspective on the same opinion.

I worked as a counselor/leadership at a camp for kiddos with physical disabilities for five summers.  Then I married a summer camp director of a camp and residential treatment center for kiddos with emotional and learning disabilities.  Then we had six kids.  Now, Paul is the director for a camp for kiddos who are on the autism spectrum.

So… I have a bit of experience with special needs summer camping.  From a couple of angles.

In my list of reasons supporting working as a counselor, I mentioned “I saw what it meant to parents that someone else was willing to care for their child 24/7” and “I found out what it means to be on duty 24/7”.

While I thought I appreciated those aspects of being a counselor, not until I became a mama did I fully grasp them.

Today, I’d like to share why I am glad summer camps for special needs children exist, from a mother’s perspective.  Why I am grateful to stand alongside these parents.


I have three main reasons.  First, one amazing blessing about summer camp for kiddos with special needs is the respite they provide for the parents.

Hear me out.

No, I am not of the mindset that parents need daily “breaks” from their children.  I do not believe that spending nearly all of their time with their children is too much or detrimental. I am not a member of the “Do My Own Thing” club.

I also am not of the mindset that parents do not need alone or one on one time ever.  Nor do I believe that wanting or even needing a night away as a couple (or as a single parent) is wrong.  I am also not a member of the “Be a Martyr” club

Most parents enjoy time alone, breaks, or even date nights as a natural part of their lives.  These times are healthy, encouraging, and refreshing for parents.

What I have seen is that most parents of special needs children, especially those with children who have severe physical, emotional, or social disabilities, don’t have those breaks.

Believe it or not, most of them do not even have family members who will provide them date night breaks, anniversary weekends, or “just because we want to have time alone with the kiddo(s) and you could probably use it” evenings.  Most of them also can not find help from others for hiring a night, or they can’t afford what someone might charge.

It takes a toll, emotionally and physically.

I see it in their eyes and they have told me flat out.

“This is the first time ever that my husband and I will have a night alone together.”  {their child was nine}

“Our ten year old has never not slept in our bed.  I can’t believe I’m going to have four nights without him in our bed.  We are so excited.  And nervous.”  {their child was ten}

“This is the only time all year that I can meet a friend for dinner and talk to our hearts content.  I can’t believe you want to take care of [insert child’s name here] for me.  (weeping)  Thank you.”

I was blessed by being the greeter at camp last year.  Why was that a blessing?  I got to see the looks on the parents’ faces as they pulled up to camp.  Everything was clear: fear, excitement, hope, joy, uncertainty.  All of it.  Watching them struggle, visibly, with leaving their child, but wanting to do so badly because of all it meant for them, was a gift to me.  Knowing how precious their children were to them, well, that’s always beautiful, isn’t it?

Every mom and dad need a little respite.  I know this first hand now.  I know what it does for a mom’s spirit and a marriage’s strength.

Some get it from their family or community.  Many, many do not.

It breaks my heart.

Do I wish their family and community would rise up to the occasion?  You bet your sweet bippy I do (nod to my mom for that weird phrase).

Since that doesn’t always happen, I am beyond thrilled that there are summer camps that provide this for parents.

Which leads me to my second reason I am grateful parents of special needs kids have summer camps as options.  I believe that many summer camps provide opportunities to the children and the parents that otherwise would not be available.  Beautiful experiences.

This is the other reason I love camp for special needs kiddos from a mama’s perspective:  camp usually provides experiences that the parent(s) simply can not provide or are scared of trying.

Yes, I think going out into the woods/nature, and even camping out, is an experience kids should have.  It’s beautiful.  It’s unique.  It’s memorable.  Summer camp provides that and so much more.

Many, many parents of special needs children are not equipped to provide such an experiences.  Those that are, may be too scared to do it without support and they just don’t have that help.  That makes tons of sense.

It’s reality for many, if not most, parents of kiddos who require one on one care or who have severe disabilities.   While Paul and I are equipped to tackle camping as a family and would do so if we had a child with disabilities, I know that is partly due to our experiences when we were young.

Which leads me to my last reason I’m grateful summer camps for special needs kids exist.

Finally, the last reason I’m grateful, as a mama, that there are summer camps for children with special needs has to do with advocacy in a personal way.


What a blessing it is for parents to know that there are young people who are learning and living outside the box.  That makes a real difference because when you work with people who have disabilities, advocacy is a very big deal.  Even more so, I imagine, if you are a parent.  Watching and knowing that there are teens and college aged kids who are willing to learn, willing to experience, and willing to die to self by serving and interacting with those with disabilities, well, that is incredibly encouraging as a mother.

We know that, even if they only work one summer or even one week, a life has been affected by all that was seen, done, and heard.  And that will have a ripple affect in their life.

How beautiful is it that summer camps exist for these children and parents?  Pretty stinkin’ beautiful.

So, as a mama, I love that parents are provided some respite, that their children are provided experiences that may have been out of reach for them, and that they get to see first hand large groups of young people learning a new side to life.

I am grateful that there are people in the world that are willing to love on, play with, and share life with other people’s children who need more than the typical amount of supervision, care, or interaction skills.

I am grateful that summer camps for special needs children exist and I am blessed to be a part of that world.

Can you just picture the faces of the parents as they arrive at camp? 


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