Thursday, May 28, 2009

When overnight camp eludes you

It’s taken 15 years, but finally my oldest kid is going to overnight camp.

Most parents take sleepover camp as a given when their child becomes a pre-teen. For my younger daughter, it entailed filling out a two-page form and dropping her off on the start date.

But for my older son Ben, who has multiple disabilities, it seemed we’d never find a place he fit.

Many camps are targeted to typical kids and aren’t physically accessible. Others are open to kids with a very specific disability. For example, they’ll take a child with a physical disability, but not a developmental disability. Or, they’ll take a child with a learning disability, but not behavioural issues. Or, they’ll take your child, but in addition to the camp fees – which are significant – you need to pay a private worker to accompany your child.

And what if your worker doesn’t feel like roughing it in the woods? One summer – before sanity kicked in – I found myself pricing nearby bed and breakfasts for a worker who didn’t want to sleep at overnight camp.

So I was excited this year when I heard rave reviews about Camp Winston, an overnight Ontario camp for kids with neurological disabilities like Tourette’s and autism, who also have challenging behaviour. A parent recommends the camp in our Summer 2009 issue of BLOOM. But when I contacted the camp to enquire about Ben attending, I was told there was a wait list of 500 children.

Five-hundred kids waiting for a spot at one camp! That’s enough kids to start a whole new camp. And I bet that’s just the tip of the iceberg in terms of children with disabilities who are waiting to attend a camp that meets their needs and welcomes them.

Camp Winston told us about Camp Kennebec, another Ontario camp tailored to kids with learning disabilities, behavioural issues and autism. We were impressed when the staff visited Ben and us at our home to describe the program and assess whether it would work for Ben.

They told us they’d get back to us in a week and I was on pins and needles, wondering if my boy would finally get a chance to experience camp life (and for my hubby and me to enjoy our first week of respite).

Ben was accepted for a week of camp, on condition that we were able to hire a worker to go to camp with him.

We didn’t qualify for any financial assistance for camp, so it will cost $1,900 for the one week of camp itself, plus what we pay our worker – a small fortune.

Does your child with disabilities attend overnight camp? What were the obstacles? Where did you find success?


My 7 year old son, Jacob, is going to overnight camp for the first time too. He is going to Camp Yaldei, in Quebec, for 3 weeks. It is a camp for kids with special needs. We are sending him with 3 shadows because he needs 24 hour care.
His shadows are amazing high school girls who love him and are more excited about this adventure than he is!
There are, as you know, some incredibly generous and giving people who see our kids as people, not just as bodies that don't work properly.
Louise, you've written some great stories, I'm looking forward to reading more posts!

Hi Marcy -- Please let us know how camp goes for Jacob. It's amazing that this opportunity has been made possible for him by the high school girls! Cheers, Louise

i dont know if anyone reads this naymore but i want you to know that i worked at yaldei this yr for both sessions and i had the time of my life. the kids were my life 24/7 and every other staff members. we can not stop talking abt the amazing time your son, Jacob, and all of teh other amazing yaldei children have given us!!!thankyou so much for providing me with this opportunity and i hope Jacob had a great summer!
-miriam a.