Various summer camps throughout Orange County offer specialized programs for children of all ages with disabilities.
Examine any playground and you will see that every child is different in his or her unique way. While one child is hanging from the bars, another is playing in the sand. One is catching grasshoppers, and another is crying in fear of the grasshoppers. Summer camps are just as unique, and often tailored to specific activities and opportunities. They are notoriously fantastic programs that provide children the opportunity to not only stay busy during their time off from school, but also learn new skills, meet new friends, engage in specific passions, and most of all, have fun.
While there are all kinds of summer camps that offer these sorts of experiences, there are a limited amount of camps that are specifically designed for children with special needs. Fortunately, Orange County offers a diverse amount of camp programs that are specially created for children with disabilities — so truly no child is left behind this summer.
The Special Camp for Special Kids in San Juan Capistrano provides an educational and recreational camp for youth with disabilities. The camp is specially created for campers from ages 6-21 years. Each camper is paired one-on-one with volunteer counselors in a fun and encouraging environment that tailors each activity to the participants’ interests, personality, experience, and abilities for a memorable experience. Campers experience a host of traditional summer camp activities including beach visits, Knott’s Berry Farm and San Diego Zoo trips.
There are four camp sessions this summer: July 9-13 (session one); July 16-20 (session two); July 23-27 (session three); July 30-Aug. 3 (session four). Each camp session hosts 50-55 campers who have a wide range of disabilities. About 15-20% of the campers use wheelchairs. A majority of the campers have Down Syndrome, Autism, Cerebral Palsy, or are developmentally delayed, and all abilities are welcome.
“We’re prepared to help every child, regardless of ability, because they aren’t just campers, they’re family. Our campers and counselors love Special Camp so much that they return year after year,” said Special Kids Executive Director Lindsay Eres, “Friendship and fun are at the core of what Special Camp is all about.”
The day camp offers campers the opportunity to engage through a variety of activities, which seek to enhance the camper’s learning abilities, communication style, emotional well-being, social development, and sensory characteristics. The camp’s primary objectives include increasing the self-esteem of children and teens with disabilities by providing positive and caring relationships with peer counselors, eliminating the stigma associated with the disabled community by providing an educational and serve opportunity for campers and counselors, and provide an opportunity to participate in recreational and educational activities.
“Regardless of ability, Special Camp makes time for fun, friendships, and everything else that creates the lasting memories of summer camp,” said Eres, “We never label, always love, and replace every ‘I can’t’ with ‘I can!’ Because magic happens when children are known by their strengths instead of their limitations, and that anything is possible with a friend by your side.”
No Limits Creative Arts in Yorba Linda brings the arts to children with special needs. The summer program offers dance, tumbling and musical theater summer camps for children 5-18 years of age. The center partners with California State University of Fullerton’s Autism Center for visual supports and many of the university’s students offer assistance in the camp’s classrooms. In fact, all students are paired with a peer mentor for one-on-one interaction and direction.
“I hope campers will take home a continued joy and love for music and dance. The camp is also a chance to meet new friends and continue physical activity to help with health and wellness,” says Carla Hutchison, director of No Limits Creative Arts, “Most importantly, it’s a chance to perform in front of an audience at the end of the session.”
The camp runs June 1-July 9. The No Limits staff is certified in first aid and CPR. Social, sensory and visual supports are also provided for the dancers. Classes work on a short routine weekly then put on a small performance at the end of the session.
The School of Dance and Music for Children with Disabilities at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts offers classes designed for all children, including those with physical and cognitive disabilities such as Down Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, autism spectrum disorders, hearing and visual impairments, and other special needs. The camp also welcomes siblings and children without disabilities. While the kids are dancing, the center gives parents and caregivers the space and the time to build a peer-to-peer support network.
The dance classes, which will run from June 4-22 and July 30-Aug. 17, are available to help children of all levels explore their full physical, creative, and social potential through dance, creative movement, music, and sensory tools. Students may enroll in one or both of the sessions. The camp’s objective is to make sure that campers have fun while exercising and improving balance, coordination, and confidence through personal and social growth.
Get a Head Start
The PRIDE Learning Center offers a very specialized reading, writing and comprehension camp for kids with learning differences. The summer camp provides an intensive four-week reading immersion program for kids who have been previously diagnosed with dyslexia, auditory and/or visual processing disorder, speech deficits, and other learning differences. The program utilizes the Orton-Gillingham teaching approach, a multisensory approach that is taught one-on-one with a PRIDE Reading Specialist.
“The summer reading camp at PRIDE is designed to help kids in a way that a regular summer school program cannot. Summer is the perfect time for struggling students to boost their skills and close the reading and comprehension gaps,” said PRIDE Learning Center director Karina Richland, “Although the reading camp is intensive and highly structured, the Reading Specialists at PRIDE make it really fun and super engaging for the kids. The kids love it and we have families return to us each summer.”
PRIDE campers range from grades kindergarten to sixth grade. The four-week intensive camp will run on July 9-Aug. 3, Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to noon.
“Our summer reading camp for kids with learning differences builds a very strong reading, writing and comprehension foundation which allows our kids greater success when they return to their classrooms in the fall. Many of these kids will progress one to two grade levels in their reading skills during this four-week summer camp.”
The Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach offers an interactive and exciting experience for all of its young campers, ages 3-15. While these camps are not exclusively for children with special needs, the program accommodates any child with special needs or disabilities who attend. Summer camps at the Aquarium feature exciting animal interactions, tours, crafts, games, and experiments to connect kids with ocean science.
Five various camps are offered throughout the summer, from June to August, and divided by age groups. The Fish Fry camp (ages 3-4) is a three-day morning camp for parent and child to get their hands wet with hands-on exploration, crafts, games, and Aquarium tours. The Sea Squirt camp (ages 5-6) offers a look at the underwater wonderland filed with fish and furry animals with hands-on activities, crafts, games and tours.
The Ocean Adventure Camp (ages 7-9) gives its campers the opportunities the chance to go behind-the-scenes to meet animal care staff and help its staff take care of the animals. The Junior Biologist camp (ages 10-12) gives its campers the chance to investigate the properties of water, collect mussels, feed fish and sea otters, and engage in other hands-on activities. The Teen Overnight camp (ages 13-15) allows teens to enjoy an overnight experience at the aquarium, which includes a pizza party, exploring of the aquarium, games and activities, a cereal breakfast, and a souvenir T-shirt.
“Summer camps at the Aquarium offer kids a fun way to get inspired about the ocean and discover new things about our animals,” said Claire Atkinson, Aquarium of the Pacific Senior Manager of Communications. “We hope they are excited to try their hands at science and dive into marine biology. Plus with special access to behind-the-scenes areas and Aquarium staff for older campers, we hope they become interested in STEM-related careers.”
Summer Camps for Special Needs
Aquarium of the Pacific
Ages 3-15; all abilities; June to August
100 Aquarium Way, Long Beach
562-590-3100 | www.aquariumofpacific.org
No Limits Creative Arts
Ages 5-18; all abilities; June 1-July 9
22601 La Palma Ave. Ste. 105, Yorba Linda
714-779-3545 | www.mccoyrigbyarts.com/no-limits-program
PRIDE Learning Center
Ages 5-12; all abilities; July 9-Aug. 3
Locations in Newport Beach & Mission Viejo
866-774-3342 | www.pridelearningcenter.com
School of Dance and Music for Children with Disabilities
Segerstrom Center for the Arts
June 4-22 & July 30-Aug. 17
600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa
714-556-2787 | www.scfta.org
Special Camp for Special Kids
6-21 years; all abilities; July 9-Aug. 3
31641 La Novia Ave, San Juan Capistran
949-661-0108 | www.specialcamp.org
By Jackie Moe