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

Consignment Sales and Stores in the Triangle

To help parents save some money on children's clothes and accessories, we have compiled a list of consignment sales and shops in the Triangle area. Find a sale or store in your county and get shopping!

Triangle Places for Family Fun in Winter

The Triangle offers lots of play escapes where kids can create and learn — and many outings are free.

Taming Thumb-Sucking in an Older Child

How to help kids ages 6-10 break that thumb-sucking habit.
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Calendar

January 2017

Help Videri Chocolate Factory celebrate its 5th anniversary with special products available this day only and prizes at the door. Activities for kids include face painting, arts and crafts and a...

Cost: Free

Where:
Videri Chocolate Factory
327 W. Davie St., #100
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

Listen and learn about the members of the woodwind family: flute, clarinet and bassoon. Family Concerts in Kirby Horton Hall last one hour. Come early to check out the instrument zoo. Ages 5 and...

Cost: $10 adults / $5 children and students

Where:
Kirby Horton Hall, Sarah P. Duke Gardens
420 Anderson Street
Durham, NC  27705
View map »


Sponsor: Mallarmé Chamber Players
Telephone: 919-560-2788
Contact Name: Ellye Walsh
Website »

More information

See the first feature documentary created about the famous writer, poet, actress and activist.

Cost: $5

Where:
The Cary Theater
122 E. Chatham St.
Cary, NC  27511
View map »


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Join Bach to Rock for a day of Rock Band Camp on MLK Day. Students will name their band, design a logo, build their repertoire of songs, record their music in our studio, and finally...

Cost: $75

Where:
Bach to Rock
958 US 64
Apex, NC  27523
View map »


Sponsor: Bach to Rock
Telephone: 919-446-5386
Contact Name: Kelly Foster
Website »

More information

Spend the afternoon helping to maintain and beautify the area around the center in honor of MLK Jr. Day of Service. All ages. Registration required for either the 10 a.m.-noon or 2-4 p.m. session.

Cost: Free

Where:
Middle Creek Community Center
123 Middle Creek Park Ave.
Apex, NC  27539
View map »


Website »

More information

Triangle families are invited to celebrate MLK Day with a family-friendly birthday party for Dr. King. Enjoy English/ Spanish storytimes, kids’ zumba, interactive activities, crafts,...

Cost: Free

Where:
Northgate Mall
1058 W Club Blvd, Northgate Mall, I-85 Exit 176
Durham, NC  27701
View map »


Sponsor: MomsRising
Telephone: 919-696-0142
Contact Name: Beth Messersmith
Website »

More information

Ages 3-5 enjoy stories.

Cost: Free

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


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Enjoy an hour-long nature series film, popcorn some scientific exploration. Participants may also take a dinner and watch the film. Register online by Jan. 13. Choose course #199053.

Cost: $1/person

Where:
Walnut Creek Wetland Center
950 Peterson St.
Raleigh, NC  27610
View map »


Sponsor: City of Raleigh Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources
Telephone: 919-996-2760
Contact Name: Stacie Hagwood
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Children delight in discoveries of shapes, colors and textures in nature. Ages 1 and older with parent. Registration required.

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

Go on a hike, make a craft and learn how to help wild animal friends. Ages 3-5. Register online.

Cost: $3/child

Where:
Wilkerson Nature Preserve
11408 Raven Ridge Rd.
Raleigh, NC
View map »


Telephone: 919-996-6764
Website »

More information

Parent and child enjoy a craft, an engaging activity and a guided walk. Ages 2-6. Register online by Jan. 14. Choose course #199096. 

Cost: $3

Where:
Walnut Creek Wetland Center
950 Peterson St.
Raleigh, NC  27610
View map »


Sponsor: City of Raleigh Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources
Telephone: 919-996-2760
Contact Name: Stacie Hagwood
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

CycleBar, a new concept in premium indoor cycling that offers a high energy workout in a concert-like atmosphere, celebrates its Cary studio grand opening by offering locals free rides from Jan. 19...

Cost: Free

Where:
CycleBar Alston
5022 Arco St.
Cary, NC  27519
View map »


Website »

More information

Children delight in discoveries of shapes, colors and textures in nature. Ages 1 and older with parent. Registration required.

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

This workshop introduces parents to reasons behind common behaviors that create difficult situations while providing suggestions to prevent and manage parenting challenges. Parents are encouraged...

Cost: $20/person, $30/couple

Where:
Project Enlightenment
501 S. Boylan Ave.
Raleigh, NC  27603
View map »


Telephone: 919-856-7774
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

CycleBar, a new concept in premium indoor cycling that offers a high energy workout in a concert-like atmosphere, celebrates its Cary studio grand opening by offering locals free rides from Jan. 19...

Cost: Free

Where:
CycleBar Alston
5022 Arco St.
Cary, NC  27519
View map »


Website »

More information

Learn about grey squirrels, their habits, habitats, and the perils they face. Register online either the the 8:30-10:30 a.m. or 1:30-3:30 p.m. session.  

Cost: Free

Where:
Lake Crabtree County Park
1400 Aviation Parkway
Morrisville, NC  27560
View map »


Sponsor: Lake Crabtree County Park
Telephone: 919-460-3355
Contact Name: Carol Cunningham
Website »

More information

Parent and child enjoy music, stories and an art activity to provide a meaningful Shabbat experience led by seasoned preschool teacher Morah Elizabeth. Ages 5 and younger; older siblings welcome....

Cost: Free for members, $5/nonmember child

Where:
Raleigh-Cary Jewish Community Center
12804 Norwood Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27613
View map »


Sponsor: Raleigh-Cary Jewish Community Center
Telephone: 919-676-6170
Contact Name: Jill Lokitz
Website »

More information

Moms wanting breastfeeding help or those who simply want to interact with other breastfeeding moms enjoy a casual drop-in cafe with experts from La Leche League. lalecheleague.org/nb.html

Cost: Free

Where:
Grow, The Family Boutique
2885 Jones Franklin Rd
Raleigh, NC  27606
View map »


Telephone: 191-980-33521
Contact Name: Heather Dickens
Website »

More information

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

Cost: Free with admission

Where:
Pump it Up Briercreek
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

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

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

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

Discover wildlife, their habits and their habitats through hikes, activities and crafts. Ages 5-8. Registration required.

Cost: $12/resident, $16/nonresident

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


Telephone: 919-387-5980
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

CycleBar, a new concept in premium indoor cycling that offers a high energy workout in a concert-like atmosphere, celebrates its Cary studio grand opening by offering locals free rides from Jan. 19...

Cost: Free

Where:
CycleBar Alston
5022 Arco St.
Cary, NC  27519
View map »


Website »

More information

Zaniac Learning invites all local residents to its grand opening event, which features refreshments, raffle prizes, tours of the brand-new center and a chance to meet the instructors. Attendees can...

Cost: Free

Where:
Zaniac Learning
1206 Parkside Main St.
Cary, NC  27519
View map »


Telephone: (919) 342-8536
Contact Name: Matt Pepe
Website »

More information

Parent and Me is a combination acrobatics and aerial class for young children. With a parent, kids ages 3-7 will build a foundation of coordination, flexibility, balance, and strength that can...

Cost: $25

Where:
Lux Performance Arts
1231 Perry Rd., Ste. 102
Apex, NC  27502
View map »


Contact Name: Jamie Trudeau
Website »

More information

Parents learn basic infant massage techniques to perform a full body massage for a baby to help promote bonding between parent and child (of any age), helps infants align their circadian rhythm...

Cost: $50

Where:
Grow, The Family Boutique
2885 Jones Franklin Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27606
View map »


Telephone: 191-980-33521
Contact Name: Heather Dickens
Website »

More information

Go nutty for nature as children satisfy some of their curiosity about the world around them and parents share in the joy of discovery. Ages 3-5 with parent. Registration required.

Cost: $10/resident, $13/nonresident

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


Telephone: 919-387-5980
Website »

More information

Go on a hike, make a craft and learn how to help wild animal friends. Ages 3-5. Register online.

Cost: $3/child

Where:
Wilkerson Nature Preserve
11408 Raven Ridge Rd.
Raleigh, NC
View map »


Telephone: 919-996-6764
Website »

More information

Parent and child enjoy a craft, an engaging activity and a guided walk. Ages 2-6. Register online by Jan. 17. Choose course #199097. 

Cost: $3

Where:
Walnut Creek Wetland Center
950 Peterson St.
Raleigh, NC  27610
View map »


Sponsor: City of Raleigh Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources
Telephone: 919-996-2760
Contact Name: Stacie Hagwood
Website »

More information

Each year, Cranberry Tree Farm donates its unsold trees to the Conservators Center for its animals to enjoy as a special form of holiday enrichment. During this walkabout, watch as wild animals...

Cost: $24 ages 12 and older, $18 ages 3-11

Where:
Conservators Center
676 E Hughes Mill Road
Burlington, NC  27217
View map »


Telephone: 888-650-1139
Website »

More information

Learn about birds and build a bird box. All ages with parent. Registration required.

Cost: $20/resident, $28/nonresident

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


Telephone: 919-387-5980
Website »

More information

Take an interactive musical adventure as Daniel Tiger and his friends explore the vibrant world of their much-loved Neighborhood of Make-Believe, sharing stories of friendship, helping others and...

Cost: $29.50 and up

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


Website »

More information

Create a chainmaille necklace. Ages 12 and older.

Cost: $22.50 plus $8 materials fee

Where:
Durham Arts Council
120 Morris St
Durham , NC  27701
View map »


Sponsor: Durham Arts Council
Telephone: 919-560-2726
Website »

More information

Take an interactive musical adventure as Daniel Tiger and his friends explore the vibrant world of their much-loved Neighborhood of Make-Believe, sharing stories of friendship, helping others and...

Cost: $29.50 and up

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

Exceptional Child

Children with special needs face unique challenges. Find resources from A-Z in areas of advocacy, education, camps and therapies to support them as they grow.

GPS [Go. Play. See]

GPS is your guide to explore all the Triangle has to offer, from museum expansions to new parks and schools to youth sports and family fun. Plus, discover our 2016 Readers' Favorites.

Education Guide

The 2016-17 Education Guide offers 643 education resources in the Triangle, including area preschools, private schools, public school systems, charter schools, boarding schools and academic resources.