Camps Offer Special Fun for Kids with Special Needs


Published:

For many adults, memories of summer camp may include learning to water ski, making macramé crafts, roasting marshmallows or even feeling a little homesick. But for parents of children with special needs, summer camp may seem like an unattainable fantasy. Whether your child requires wheelchair-accessible facilities, a special diet, medical staff or counselors who understand the full autism spectrum, camps across North Carolina offer a wide range of options - from day camps and overnight programs to camps that include siblings or have no fees.

Finding a camp that fits

The key is to start the search and registration process early. Connect with other parents of children with special needs who may have tips or have already vetted specific camps.

When considering a standard summer camp, ask about the facilities and medical staff to see if it offers what your child needs to be successful. Many local parks and recreation programs include options for children with disabilities, and some YMCAs welcome kids with special needs in summer day camps.

Balancing special treatment with can-do attitudes

If you're open to the overnight option and a short drive, many camps roll out the red carpet for kids who need a little extra attention.

Holly Bolton of Davidson, N.C., never imagined her children going to sleep-away camp. Eleanor, 9, and Jack, 7, have spinal muscular atrophy and use power wheelchairs to get around. But two years ago, a friend and camp volunteer told the Boltons about Victory Junction.

Located in Randleman, N.C., Victory Junction caters to special needs of all types, from craniofacial anomalies to hemophilia and cancer to spina bifida. While a week at camp costs about $2,500, there is no cost to the families whose children attend, thanks to sponsor support.

"We went to a family weekend ... and we had the best time," Bolton says. "The camp is fully accessible; the wheelchairs can go up in a tree house, and [the kids] can play putt-putt, archery and bowling. When my husband and I talk about it, we agree that it was a life-changing experience."

Bolton says bonding with others and gaining confidence were the biggest takeaways from Eleanor and Jack's week at camp. "In the night hours in the cabins while they're unwinding for the day, they have discussions with other kids about their challenges," she says. "I think it is definitely confidence-building, and it gives them a chance to be around other people to prepare them for later in life."

Camp Carefree in Stokesdale, N.C., is another free, one-week overnight camp that welcomes children with special needs. From Neuro Week to Cancer Week to sessions for children with sickle-cell anemia and muscular dystrophy, Camp Carefree aims to emphasize what kids can do, not their illness or disability. There is even time reserved for siblings to attend.

"We call it the 'You Can Do It Camp,'" says Anne Jones, founder and executive director. "It is good for them to see that they can still do things."

Audrey Ganitopoulos, program director at the N.C. Therapeutic Riding Center in Mebane, agrees that the camp experience can build confidence and provide acceptance. The staff works with children who have autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, sensory integration disorder, Down syndrome, and other physical and cognitive issues. Siblings are welcome.

At the day camp, students spend the morning in the barn and take an hour-long riding lesson. The afternoon is filled with arts and crafts and learning to care for the center's chickens, pigs and goats.

"There are so many beneficial things children get out of being around animals," Ganitopoulos says. "For instance, students with autism can get to social interaction more easily through time with a horse."

The country atmosphere provides a calming influence, she says. "Our campers make a connection with their equine partners, and they gain patience and tolerance from the animals," Ganitopoulos says.

At Abilitations Children's Therapy & Wellness Center's Summer Musical Theater in Raleigh, counselors assign each child a role that suits his or her personality and abilities. T.R. Goins, a physical therapist at Abilitations, says licensed medical staff and a small number of students ensure that each child gets the most out of his or her experience.

This year, the staff will stage Toy Story. Children ages 5 and older with physical, cognitive, visual or hearing impairment can take part in the six-week camp that culminates in a production onstage at the Governor Morehead School in Raleigh.

Overcoming challenges builds confidence

Counselors who serve children with special needs stress that parents should not rule out physical activities. In fact, overcoming physical challenges may help broaden horizons and help children realize they can tackle a range of skills.

Camp Friendly, a day camp offered by the City of Raleigh Department of Parks and Recreation, offers children and teens with developmental and physical disabilities an opportunity to build confidence by participating in baseball, basketball, boating, camping, hiking, dance, theater, music, games, arts and crafts and a variety of other physical activities.

The Wrightsville Beach Surf Camp makes accommodations for children with special needs and their families who want to learn to surf.

Participants gain confidence and have fun, says Chelsea Thornhill, operations manager. "The surf lessons can help fill a void that having a grave illness can create," she says. "It's very healing."

Thornhill says children with any disability - ranging from those with autism to paraplegics - are welcome to take surf lessons, but a two-week notice helps ensure proper staffing the day your family attends.

"If your disability prohibits you from standing, you can still ride a wave on your stomach," she says. "We want to make sure if you need two or three instructors to help out, we have them ready. We hope to show people that they can do something completely new and different."

Some camp directors aim to fill a need that isn't covered by other camps, special needs or otherwise. Camp Royall in Pittsboro offers services throughout the year to people with autism and their families. The camp's summer program is a popular overnight option for a wide range of children on the autism spectrum.

Charlotte-area Camp Holiday fills a gap, too. Director Marcia Stern says it targets an often-underserved population: children ages 5 to 16 with Down syndrome. These kids learn about yoga, martial arts, music, nature, science and computers. Older children can take part in the Counselors in Training program, which offers leadership and team-building training.

"I want these children to be given the same opportunities as everyone else," Stern says.

Justin Thomas, camp coordinator and director of the American Diabetes Association Camp Carolina Trails in King, N.C., says the overnight camp for students in rising grades three through 11 who have diabetes, is assigned a staff of 35 counselors who also serve as role models.

"Thirty-three of them have diabetes," Thomas says. "They are great examples of how these kids can be happy, healthy, successful, go to college, get married and have a great career. It's so helpful to see others in their peer group and older people who are in the exact same shoes."

Camp Carolina Trails' 1-to-10 medical staff-to-camper ratio with a medical member in each cabin every night reassures concerned parents.

Children with specific dietary needs present their own set of challenges, and at least one camp has addressed this. Kids with celiac disease who require a gluten-free diet can enjoy Camp Kanata in Wake Forest without worrying about food during Gluten-Free Week Aug. 5-11.

Researching, asking questions and touring the facilities help parents feel more comfortable before registering for a specific camp or session. Follow your child's individual interests to begin your search.  n

Anne Woodman is a Morrisville-based writer and mother of two.

For More Information & Resources

  • Find contact information for each camp mentioned above in the following list::

    - Abilitations Children's Therapy & Wellness Center Inc., Raleigh. The website has a helpful "Resource Corner" to aid your search efforts. 919-844-6611 or www.actwc.com.

    - Camp Carefree, Stokesdale. Free, overnight camp for specific health issues and disabilities. 336-427-0966 or www.campcarefree.org.

    - Camp Carolina Trails, King. Overnight camp for children with type 1 or type 2 diabetes. 919-743-5400 or 888-342-2382 x3217 or jthomas@diabetes.org.

    - Camp Holiday, Charlotte. Day camp for children with Down syndrome. 704-998-1740 or www.dsacnc.org.

    - Camp Friendly, Raleigh. www.raleighnc.gov/arts/content/PRecRecreation/Articles/CAMPFRIENDLY.html.

    - Camp Kanata, Wake Forest. Offers a Gluten-Free Week for children with celiac disease. 919-556-2661 or www.campkanata.org.

    - Camp Royall, Pittsboro. Overnight camp for children on the autism spectrum who are residents of North Carolina. www.autismsociety-nc.org.

    - North Carolina Therapeutic Riding Center, Mebane. Day camps for children with or without disabilities. 919-304-1009 or www.nctrcriders.org.

    - City Parks & Recreation Departments and YMCA programs often serve children with special needs; check ones near you.

    - Victory Junction, Randleman. Free, overnight camp for a wide range of special needs. 336-498-9055 or www.victoryjunction.org.

    - Wrightsville Beach Surf Camp, Wrightsville. Surf lessons scheduled for children with special needs with two-week notice; also offers alopecia and cancer charity day camps. 866-844-7873 or www.wbsurfcamp.com.

  • Check the Recreation and Enrichment resource listings category in the Carolina Parent Special Kids Guide for more options.
  • Check out ourcamp directory for a list of mainstream camps, if you'd like to explore those options for your child.

 

What to Know Before You Register

 

Jamie Harris of Morrisville, a former teacher and mother of an autistic child, suggests the following questions to ask when considering camps for children with special needs:

  • What is the camper-to-staff ratio? The fewer campers to each staff member, the better.
  • Are the teachers trained to work with special-needs children?
  • Are the facilities clean and accessible to your child, and do they meet his needs?
  • What activities will the campers be doing? How will they help your child achieve his goals?
  • Does the camp provide any transportation?
  • Can you apply for a scholarship if the camp is not free?
  • Also, be sure to register early to ensure a spot for your child.
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Related Content

New 'Seedlings' Exhibit Opens at Marbles Kids Museum

This imaginative greenhouse exhibit invites kids to get hands-on with planting.

Fun Things to Do in the Triangle This Weekend, Nov. 24-26

This weekend, practice thankfulness at a park in Raleigh, create with with fun materials in Durham, get a scientific perspective on an old favorite movie in Raleigh, and tour a historical park in Durham.

Family Performances in the Triangle

Nothing beats theater and live shows for beauty, suspense, laughs and learning. Check out what's happening this month on local stages.
Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Calendar

November 2017

Step back in time with a 19th-century costumed interpreter and watch the millstones at work grinding corn into meal. Registration encouraged online. Tickets available at the...

Cost: $5/adult, $3 ages 7-16. Free for ages 6 and younger

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Rd.
Raleigh, NC
View map »


Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Celebrate the wonderful world of exotic animals and reptiles. Enjoy live specimens, presentations, raffles, vendors and much more. Purchase tickets online.  

Cost: $12 ages 13 and older, $5 ages 5-12.

Where:
N.C. State Fairgrounds, Kerr Scott Building
1025 Blue Ridge Rd.
Raleigh, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

Take part in a class that teaches individualized ways to foster motor development for your child. Learn about tummy time alternatives, best positions for your baby, how to help your child learn to...

Cost: $18

Where:
Open Arts
1222 Copeland Oaks Dr.
Morrisville, NC  27560
View map »


Sponsor: Babies On The MOVE
Contact Name: Rebecca Quinones
Website »

More information

Join Mindful Families of Durham, a Buddhist-inspired spiritual community that supports area parents, caregivers, and their children in the practice of mindfulness and the understanding of the...

Cost: Free

Where:
Erwin Road
Durham, NC  27705
View map »


Sponsor: Mindful Families of Durham
Contact Name: Adam, Laura, Josh, Sumi
Website »

More information

Take part in a class that teaches individualized ways to foster motor development for your child. Learn about carry positions, best positions for your baby, how to help your child learn to crawl,...

Cost: $18

Where:
Open Arts
1222 Copeland Oaks Dr.
Morrisville, NC  27560
View map »


Sponsor: Babies On The MOVE
Contact Name: Rebecca Quinones
Website »

More information

Kicks off the holiday season with local art, music, food, and family activities at various locations in Durham’s historic downtown district. Presented by the Durham Arts Council with support...

Cost: Free and open to the public.

Where:
Downtown Durham
120 Morris St.
Durham, NC  27701
View map »


Sponsor: Durham Arts Council
Telephone: 919-560-2719
Contact Name: Susan Tierney
Website »

More information

Participants develop their naturalist skills and understanding of local nature. Ages 5-8 with parent. Register online.

Cost: $8/resident, $10/nonresident

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Cary, NC
View map »


Telephone: 919-387-5980
Website »

More information

Celebrate the natural world and where favorite Thanksgiving foods come from. Make a craft. All ages with adult. Register online.

Cost: $1/person

Where:
Crowder District Park
4709 Ten-Ten Rd.
Apex, NC
View map »


Telephone: 919-662-2850
Website »

More information

Search the preserve for hidden holiday-themed clues and learn about native wild turkeys. Make a turkey decoration. Ages 5 and older with parent. Register online. Choose course code...

Cost: $1/person

Where:
Horseshoe Farm Nature Preserve
2900 Horse Shoe Farm Rd.
Wake Forest, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

Search for salamanders, owls and more. Ages 10-13. Register online.

Cost: $12/resident, $16/nonresident

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Raleigh, NC
View map »


Telephone: 919-387-5980
Website »

More information

Park West Village hosts Winter Wonderland in the District. This year’s event will take place the weekend of November 17th. Take the family to enjoy train rides, magical winter lights, live...

Cost: Free; $5 donation for sledding

Where:
Park West Village
3400 Village Market Place
Morrisville, NC  27560
View map »


Telephone: 919-234-6710
Contact Name: Conner Dixon
Website »

More information

See ponies, hunters and jumpers compete in an event that benefits Duke Children's Hospital. Visit the website for hours and fees.

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Gov. James B. Hunt Horse Complex
4601 Trinity Rd.
Raleigh, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Children ages 18 months-4 years and their parents enjoy free creative movement and music classes. The creative movement class focuses on the development of gross motor skills and...

Cost: Free

Where:
Saint Raphael Preschool
5801 Falls of Neuse Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27615
View map »


Sponsor: St. Raphael Preschool
Telephone: 919-865-5725
Contact Name: Sarah Rapp
Website »

More information

Make crafts celebrating turkeys. All ages with adult. Meet at the Cardinal Shelter. Registration not required. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Crowder District Park
4709 Ten-Ten Rd.
Apex, NC
View map »


Telephone: 919-662-2850
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Children ages 18 months-4 years and their parents enjoy free creative movement and music classes. The creative movement class focuses on the development of gross motor skills and...

Cost: Free

Where:
Saint Raphael Preschool
5801 Falls of Neuse Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27615
View map »


Sponsor: St. Raphael Preschool
Telephone: 919-865-5725
Contact Name: Sarah Rapp
Website »

More information

Kids ages 6 and younger enjoy stories. Take part in an optional arts and crafts session after storytime for $5.

Cost: Free

Where:
Read With Me Book Shop
111 E. Hargett St., $110
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

Learn what it was like to be a kid at the first Thanksgiving. Play games and make a food collage. Choose either the 10:30-noon and 2-3:30 p.m. session. Ages 7 and older. Register online.

Cost: $6/child

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Rd.
Raleigh, AL
View map »


Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Toddler Time is a special time for ages 5 and younger to bounce under the supervision of their parents, and without interference from the big kids. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: $7-$10

Where:
Sky Zone Durham
1720 Guess Rd., Ste. 90
Durham, NC  27701
View map »


Website »

More information

Children ages 18 months-4 years and their parents enjoy free creative movement and music classes. The creative movement class focuses on the development of gross motor skills and...

Cost: Free

Where:
Saint Raphael Preschool
5801 Falls of Neuse Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27615
View map »


Sponsor: St. Raphael Preschool
Telephone: 919-865-5725
Contact Name: Sarah Rapp
Website »

More information

Explore the woods and shoreline for signs of nature and collect treasures to make a craft. Take a full water bottle, snack and a bag lunch. Ages 6-11. Meet at the Cypress Shelter. Advance...

Cost: $16/child

Where:
Harris Lake County Park
2112 County Park Dr.
New Hill, NC  27562
View map »


Sponsor: Harris Lake County Park
Telephone: 919-387-4342
Contact Name: Jackie Trickel
Website »

More information

Kids ages 6 and younger enjoy stories. Take part in an optional arts and crafts session after storytime for $5.

Cost: Free

Where:
Read With Me Book Shop
111 E. Hargett St., $110
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

Listen for the sound of silver bells and climb aboard in your pajamas for a first-class journey on the Polar Express. Come early to meet Santa and enjoy kid-friendly activities and a traditional...

Cost: $14-$29

Where:
Meymandi Concert Hall
2 E. South St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

Athletes improve their flexibility, balance, joint mobility, as well as body and breath awareness. Special attention will be paid to core strength and posture and its importance in performance and...

Cost: Call for fees

Where:
Little Guru Kids Yoga and Creative Arts
215 Glenwood Avenue, Suite A
Raleigh, NC  27603
View map »


Sponsor: Little Guru Kids Yoga
Telephone: 919-345-5873
Contact Name: Jen Bluestone
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Children ages 18 months-4 years and their parents enjoy free creative movement and music classes. The creative movement class focuses on the development of gross motor skills and...

Cost: Free

Where:
Saint Raphael Preschool
5801 Falls of Neuse Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27615
View map »


Sponsor: St. Raphael Preschool
Telephone: 919-865-5725
Contact Name: Sarah Rapp
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Celebrate what you're thankful for. Play a game and make a pine cone turkey craft. All ages with adult. Drop-in program. Registration not required.

Cost: Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Rd.
Raleigh, NC
View map »


Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Shop more than 20 local vendors offering amazing gifts this holiday season. Enjoy daily raffles with proceeds benefiting local animal rescue Paws in the City. Kids can enjoy crafts...

Cost: Free

Where:
Cary Crossroads
333 Crossroads Blvd
Cary, NC  27518
View map »


Website »

More information

Children ages 18 months-4 years and their parents enjoy free creative movement and music classes. The creative movement class focuses on the development of gross motor skills and...

Cost: Free

Where:
Saint Raphael Preschool
5801 Falls of Neuse Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27615
View map »


Sponsor: St. Raphael Preschool
Telephone: 919-865-5725
Contact Name: Sarah Rapp
Website »

More information

A wonderfully kid-paced hour featuring music, play and dancing with toddler stars singing on the mic at Cotton's gently amplified & participatory music show. Children delight in...

Cost: Free with admission

Where:
Pump It Up Raleigh
10700 World Trade Blvd, #112
Raleigh, NC  27617
View map »


Sponsor: Pump it Up
Telephone: 919-828-3344
Contact Name: Owner/manager Kellie Paterson McHugh
Website »

More information

Read the story by Karma Wilson and make a Thanksgiving-themed craft. All ages. Registration not required.

Cost: Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Rd.
Raleigh, AL
View map »


Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

See a contemporary re-imagination of Tchaikovky's timeless music. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: $35-$55

Where:
Durham Performing Arts Center
123 Vivian St.
Durham, NC  27701
View map »


Website »

More information

See the classic holiday story brought to life onstage featuring favorite characters Santa and Mrs. Claus, Hermey the Elf, Bumble the Abominable Snow Monster, Clarice, Yukon Cornelius and...

Cost: $15 and up

Where:
Fletcher Theater
2 E. South St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

See the classic holiday story brought to life onstage featuring favorite characters Santa and Mrs. Claus, Hermey the Elf, Bumble the Abominable Snow Monster, Clarice, Yukon Cornelius and...

Cost: $15 and up

Where:
Fletcher Theater
2 E. South St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

See a contemporary re-imagination of Tchaikovky's timeless music. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: $35-$55

Where:
Durham Performing Arts Center
123 Vivian St.
Durham, NC  27701
View map »


Website »

More information

Catch this comedy classic on the big screen—as the symphony plays the charming and delightful score by John Williams live. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: $14-$29

Where:
Meymandi Concert Hall
2 E. South St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Fit & Able Productions presents the Turkey Chase trail festival at Umstead Park. Take part in a 5K, 10K or 20K. After the race, enjoy fruit, brownies and other...

Cost: $25-$45

Where:
Umstead Park
8801 Glenwood Ave.
Raleigh, NC  27617
View map »


Sponsor: Fit and Able Productions
Telephone: 919-673-4689
Contact Name: Travis
Website »

More information

Celebrate what you're thankful for. Play a game and make a pine cone turkey craft. All ages with adult. Drop-in program. Registration not required.

Cost: Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Rd.
Raleigh, NC
View map »


Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Toddler Time is a special time for ages 5 and younger to bounce under the supervision of their parents, and without interference from the big kids. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: $7-$10

Where:
Sky Zone Durham
1720 Guess Rd., Ste. 90
Durham, NC  27701
View map »


Website »

More information

Shop more than 20 local vendors offering amazing gifts this holiday season. Enjoy daily raffles with proceeds benefiting local animal rescue Paws in the City. Kids can enjoy crafts...

Cost: Free

Where:
Cary Crossroads
333 Crossroads Blvd
Cary, NC  27518
View map »


Website »

More information

The Raleigh Boychoir makes an appearance before its big Christmas concert.

Cost: Free

Where:
Quail Ridge Books
4209-100 Lassiter Mill Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27609
View map »


Website »

More information

Kids ages 6 and younger enjoy stories. Take part in an optional arts and crafts session after storytime for $5.

Cost: Free

Where:
Read With Me Book Shop
111 E. Hargett St., $110
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

See the classic holiday story brought to life onstage featuring favorite characters Santa and Mrs. Claus, Hermey the Elf, Bumble the Abominable Snow Monster, Clarice, Yukon Cornelius and...

Cost: $15 and up

Where:
Fletcher Theater
2 E. South St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

Take a 30-minute tour to view the main power drive and milling machinery. Tickets available inside the park's visitor center. Online registration encouraged.

Cost: $5/adult, $3 ages 7-16. Free for ages 6 and younger

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Rd.
Raleigh, NC
View map »


Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Explore the historic nature of Leigh Farm Park with a friendly guide. Venture inside the historic farmhouse while being captivated by tales about life at Leigh Farm throughout the years.

Cost: Free

Where:
Leigh Farm Park
370 Leigh Farm Rd.
Durham, NC  27707
View map »


Sponsor: Durham Parks and Recreation
Telephone: 919-560-1116
Contact Name: Natalya Buckel
Website »

More information

See the classic holiday story brought to life onstage featuring favorite characters Santa and Mrs. Claus, Hermey the Elf, Bumble the Abominable Snow Monster, Clarice, Yukon Cornelius and...

Cost: $15 and up

Where:
Fletcher Theater
2 E. South St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

Catch this comedy classic on the big screen—as the symphony plays the charming and delightful score by John Williams live. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: $14-$29

Where:
Meymandi Concert Hall
2 E. South St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...
Edit Module

Magazine

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Directories

Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit ModuleShow Tags

Annual Guides

Education Guide

The 2017-18 Education Guide offers 660 education resources in the Triangle, including area preschools, private schools, public school systems, charter schools, boarding schools and academic resources.

The Triangle Go-To Guide

Our debut Triangle Go-To Guide connects you to family fun resources across the Triangle. Plus, find out who our 2017 Readers' Favorites are.
Edit ModuleShow Tags