Hudson Valley Parent

HVP Feb 2015

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22 Hudson Valley Parent ■ February 2015 By DENISE YEARIAN A t age 6, Kim Kelly paid her first visit to a residential camp for children with special needs. It was an experience she and her family will never forget. Up to this point, she had lived a pretty shel- tered life, her mother Ruth says. "Because she has a hearing loss and an orthopedic problem, it was natural for me to want to hold her close." By bringing Kim to camp, her mother realized two things: "My daughter needed to learn to do things on her own, and I needed to let go a little." For the Kellys, it was a positive experience. Tailor made for each camper There's a host of benefits children derive from attending camp, but for kids with special needs, those bene- fits are amplified. Michael Bednarz, executive di- rector of Camp Huntington, in High Falls, says one benefit is the camp's highly focused staff. "We design our camp cabins around a specific profile, so we have campers with similar needs in each cabin," he says. "This way the staff can be very focused on specific goals. We might have high-function- ing campers in one cabin focusing on socialization, while in another cabin, we have low-functioning campers who are focusing on toilet-training." Camp Huntington is a co-ed residential program for children and young adults with special learning and developmental needs. The staff operates at a minimum of a 1:3 ratio with campers, as op- posed to the 1:8 ration that is typical at inclusion camps. "Traditional camps do a great job mainstreaming special needs' children into their programs, but a special needs camp lets them be with other kids who have similar disabili- ties," says Sandy Cameron, editor of Camping Magazine. "The programs are pretty much the same, but may be altered to meet the children's needs." According to Heidi Haldeen, sum- mer program specialist for Easter Seals, the opportunities and out- comes for all campers are the same. "The only difference is the activ- ities are modified according to the campers' needs. This gives them a chance to shine." Even ground, greater pride That's what 9-year-old Tiffany Wells found when she attended a special needs camp. During the school year, Tiffany, who has cere- bral palsy and asthma, played on the children's softball team, and a community bowling league. But because none of the other chil- dren she played with were disabled, the competition wasn't always equal. "Attending a special needs camp allowed Tiffany to compete on more even ground because all the other kids were playing with some kind of disability," reports her mother, Linda. The result? "Tiffany saw that she could actually win and come out on top." "It gives them the con dence they need to try new things they might not have otherwise tried." — Sandy Cameron, editor of Camping Magazine A chance to shine Are specialty camps best for your child with special needs? February 2015 Specialty camps like Camp Huntington in High Falls offer campers with special needs one-on-one access to highly trained and specialized staff, while promoting fun and independence.

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