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For Parents of Kids With Disabilities, Finding A Summer Camp Can Be Really Hard

For many kids, the loosely-controlled chaos of summer camp is just what they need—time to be free and wild with their friends and enjoy being a kid. But kids with disabilities or learning differences, like those who struggle with sensory processing, sound sensitivity, anxiety, and autism, often struggle to thrive in many summer camp environments. The problem is, in the free-for-all summer child care market that the U.S. uses as a weak (and expensive) substitute for public schools, summer camp is the only childcare option for many parents.

In this compelling piece from Time, author and mom Rebecca Gale examines the summer-camp system through her family’s story as well as larger systemic issues.

Take a look:

When Summer Camp Doesn’t Work For Your Kid

My son, M., is seven years old. His favorite activity is to play with Legos by himself. He likes baseball, tolerates swimming, and while most kids run in spurts or dashes, he prefers the quiet solitude of distance running, and runs two miles with a sub-9 minute mile split. He goes to school willingly each morning and has a small group of friends there, whom he plays with at recess.

Yet for M, summers are the worst. He’s sensitive to big groups, noisy kids, and does poorly with too much overstimulation with too little downtime. He has no interest in sharing Legos with anyone. There is no readily-available summer camp that can meet his needs that he is willing to attend. At the start of each calendar year, the battle begins of where will he go to camp – what are the fewest hours he needs to actually do something, and what are the handful of places in which he will want to attend? Which are the ones that aren’t packed with kids and managed by a handful of underprepared teenagers? And the biggest question – which one of his parents cuts back on work hours and stays home with him if whatever chosen camp we’ve selected turns out to be an epic fail? And then what do we do?

The summer camp conundrum is an offshoot of the child care crisis, a problem exacerbated in America by the lack of any federal infrastructure to support parents of young children. The child care crisis has several branches but the most important is the lack of year-round federal support for children ages zero to five, too young to go to school. There are very limited options for school age children for childcare in the hours when school is not open, and the options for kids, like M, who can’t readily participate in group environments without additional support is even more limited. The contrast, of course, is the public school system infrastructure – designed to support every child no matter the need. M, like 7.2 other children or 15 percent of U.S. public school kids, has sufficient challenges that qualify him for an Individualized Education Program, or an “IEP” as they’re commonly referred to. IEPs are part of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1990, that mandates public schools to meet the educational needs of children with disabilities. This can mean anything from dyslexia, to ADHD, to mental health disorders including anxiety and depression if they impact behavior and learning, and including kids with even more severe difficulties.

Image via TIME


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