When it comes to booking a specialized camp for your special child, the earlier the better. Some schedules are already filled, such as the unique camp for those with MSUD, a rare metabolic problem known as maple syrup urinary disease, at Vee Bar Ranch (veebar.com) in Laramie, Wyo. Although, the ranch can offer a strict, protein-free diet (PKU) at any time. Many other specific camps are offered only for a few weeks each summer.
The good news is that where parents once found camps specializing in autism, they now find camps, such as Talisman Camps in North Carolina (talismancamps.com) that specialize in Asperger syndrome within the autism spectrum.
Where do you begin?
Search the Internet using key words such as “support group + name of disability”
Connect with a year-round support group locally or online where you get ongoing insights into camps and other services specific to your child. There are camps for children who are blind, deaf, autistic or have diabetes, Down syndrome or breathing disorders. Many camps have complete medical facilities and staff on hand, and specialize in children who have chronic or terminal illnesses or severe breathing disorders.
Mainstream or special camp?
If you have a special-needs child but prefer a camp that provides a well-rounded camp experience, assemble a list of camps you prefer. Then ask if they accept children with your child’s condition. Next, make sure their staff is trained to deal with an asthma attack, peanut-free kitchen, etc.
Be specific about what safety systems need to be in place for your child. What experience does the kitchen staff have with feeding kids with diabetes, PKU or tree nut allergies? Are staff trained in pediatric first aid? Sports injuries? Are pillows and bedding nonallergenic? Doctor on site or on call?
Family participation, yes or no?Some camps, especially those that focus on weight loss or behavior modification, don’t allow parent contact. Others have programs for all ages or encourage the entire family to attend. Still others serve special-needs children only but offer discount accommodations nearby for the family. Another choice is to travel to a place where your special-needs child attends day camp and comes “home” to your hotel each night.
A camp that doesn’t permit parental visits, with the goal of giving adults a total break from the stresses of care-giving, is Dragonfly Forest (dragonflyforest.org.) in Philadelphia. It specializes in children with autism, bleeding disorders or asthma.
Resorts and cruises
Resorts and curises that offer a mainstream vacation may have a complete medical staff or a specialized treatment such as kidney dialysis. In the Caribbean island of Curacao, Kura Hulanda (kurahulanda.com) is a luxury report that offers dialysis. Also in Curacao is the Dolphin Suites Hotel (www.dolphinsuites-curacao.com), a posh beach resort that is wheelchair-accessible . It has day or 24-hour care, nursing care plus Bruckner Bio Feedback therapy for patients with damage to the brain or central nervous system. The Curacao Dolphin Therapy & Research Center is another facility on the island.
Local facilities Check ahead for such services as fat-tire-wheelchair rental for the beach, “kneeling” buses, rental wheelchairs in malls, stores that offer mobility carts and rental vans equipped with lifts.
Philadelphia’s Independence Hall provides a video guide in American Sign Language. At Lake Compounce Theme Park in Bristol, Conn., staff have been trained by Autism Speaks to understand autistic guests and their families. The park also permits special-needs children and one guardian to go to the front of the line if a condition makes waiting difficult.
Customized luxury vacations
These can be costly but are tailored totally to special needs. You can book a wheelchair-accessible African safari or a paraplegic scuba cruise in the Caribbean. Many travel agencies compete for this business, so do a search for key phrases such as “equestrian+vacation+name of handicap” or “whitewater+type of handicap+name of a country or state.”
Check age limits