There’s always the question of what to do with a special needs child over the summer. There’s school-provided ESY, or other enrichment programs, or perhaps doing some home schooling… or there’s regular camp.
As we did last summer, this summer we decided to send the Monster to Camp Milldale.
Camp Milldale is the JCC of Baltimore’s day camp – it’s located about another twenty minutes out past the Owings Mills JCC in the countryside, on an expansive campus that features a pool, athletic fields, a lake and lots of wooded territory. It very much resembles where I went to camp – the JCC Camp Deeny Riback – but quite a bit more hilly. But obviously most relevant for my blog, they offer special needs programs for 4 or 8 weeks per summer.
I didn’t grow up in the area down here, so I don’t have any ‘fond memories’ that have me wanting to send my child there. Plus… I’ll be honest. I remember, as a counselor and then as a member of the aquatics staff, what the special needs program was like when I was at camp (which was admittedly 20 years ago). So I had my biases before last summer when we were enrolling the Monster at a camp that would be full-day, far away from home. (He had been, before that, at half-day programs at Noah’s Ark at the OM JCC.)
I think what’s struck me, in the two summers that he’s been at Milldale, is the wonderful job that they do in integrating the special needs students into the regular bunks. Last summer, the Monster had a 1:1 aide, and this summer he has a 2:1 (which seems to be working out just fine). He has a communication book like he does at school, so we are fairly well appraised of what’s going on at camp and if there are any issues, and it gives us an easy touch-base with the camp to let us ask questions when we have them. But the aides also go a step beyond – we actually got a customized visual story sent home last week, when there was a major schedule change, with enough time that we could go over it a few times with him so he could at least have some forewarning of the change.
He’s riding the standard bus, which is probably good practice for him for the fall. No special harness, no special care – his bus counselors of course know he’s special-needs – but we’ve heard of no problems during the rides.
Of course, we have gotten notice that apparently his swimming skills have regressed since last summer, but that’s to be expected to some extent. Coupled with the fact that he’s still not a very verbal communicator, he has issues with doing safety lessons, but other than that, he seems to be having a good time at the pool, which is his favorite activity.
One reason we do like Milldale is that they provide the ESY services mandated by his IEP with very little trouble. They bring in specialists to handle the services, and he has appointments for the requisite amount of time as mandated. No fuss, no muss.
I think it’s safe to say that, barring some massively fantastic other option, the Monster’s going back to Milldale next summer too.