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For people with Down syndrome, family members, caregivers and professionals.

Attending a Summer Camp

March 2017 | Shane Sexton, LCSW - Social Worker, Adult Down Syndrome Center

It may be hard to believe when many of us are still shivering in our winter coats, but summer is just around the corner! Summer is not only a time to soak up sunshine and enjoy family vacations but a time when many of our patients benefit from attending an overnight camp. There are many of these camps all over the country for children and adults with intellectual disabilities and there are many good reasons to consider sending a person with DS to camp!

  1. Developing independence – A week or two at camp is a chance for a person with Down syndrome to see what it’s like to be away from family. It is a chance for people to discover that they can do things for themselves when mom and dad are not there. Some people with Down syndrome may not live with their families in adulthood and a week or two at camp is a chance to see what this might be like. Some programs do provide the chance to visit camp before the session starts so that both you and your camper can get an idea of what camp will be like. 

  2. Respite – Camp provides a person’s family with a break to do things that they need to do to take care of themselves as a caregiver for someone with special needs. It can also be a time for parents to focus on their own relationship or on the siblings of the person with Down syndrome. It also gives parents a chance to see what it is like for their child to be away from them for a short time. This is often more difficult for the parents than the person with Down syndrome!

  3. Friendship – Camp provides a person with Down syndrome a chance to form friendships in a supportive environment. Many camps pride themselves on providing a sense of community and belonging for campers that can be difficult to find in other environments. Some of our patients attend camps for people with intellectual disabilities and make friends with other people with disabilities. Other patients attend camp with typical peers through an inclusion program and have a chance to make friends with typical peers as well. Three female friends with Down syndromeSometimes these friendships even extend into the rest of the year, especially with social media, email, and text messaging. Many of our patients attend the same camp year after year and get to know other campers and camp staff very well. Camp can be a place where they can feel comfortable and have a lot of support. One mother told me about how her son had attended the same camp program for many years and even went to reunions with his camp friends during the school year. His camp friends provide him with an important source of social support.

  4. New experiences – Camp provides a chance for someone with DS to have experiences that they can’t have in other environments. This may include riding a horsing, swimming in a lake, sailing on a boat, sleeping in a cabin, or sitting around a campfire. One mom told me recently about seeing a picture of her daughter high up on a ropes course while at camp. She never pictured her daughter doing something like this! Some people are also more successful at some of the outdoor activities offered at camp than they may be in a school or work environment where there is less physical activity. Camp can be a place where they experience success rather than frustration. Some camps even offer travel experiences and chances to explore other parts of the country. These are chances to expand a person’s horizons and allow them to spread their wings.

There are many things to consider when finding a camp that is the right fit for someone with Down syndrome. Cost is certainly a factor and some camps do offer scholarships and other financial support. Parents and caregivers are rightfully concerned about the level of assistance and supervision their child or adult with DS will receive at camp and about how the camp staff are screened and vetted. There are several good websites that can help identify camp programs in your area. Here are a few:

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Please note: The information on this site is for educational purposes only and is not intended to serve as a substitute for a medical, psychiatric, mental health, or behavioral evaluation, diagnosis, or treatment plan by a qualified professional. We recommend you review the educational material with your health providers regarding the specifics of your health care needs.