Summer is short, but the experiences made and friendships forged during the school break can be everlasting. Children with special needs can get in on the fun, too, thanks to a wealth of programs serving them throughout Orange County. They’ll have a chance to ride the waves, dance the months away, and soak up the summer like every kid should.
Surfer’s Healing – Dana Point
Autistic children can find a little summer sizzle by hitting the waves through a program that helps teach special needs kids how to surf. Surfer’s Healing is offering a free, one-day camp for autistic kids June 21 at Dana Point’s Doheny State Beach. It’s among the many complimentary day-long camps the non-profit foundation is offering throughout the world.
The camp is now in its 20th year. It was founded by Danielle and Izzy Paskowitz, whose autistic son, now 26, loves the ocean. Izzy Paskowitz, formerly a world-renowned professional surfer, says some parents shed tears of joy from the shore as the watch their children riding the waves, unhindered by fear or anxiety. After they’re finished, the kids return to the beach, running “into the arms of mom or dad, waiting on the dry sand with a big, dry and cozy towel”.
The non-profit Surfer’s Healing is also offering a series of fee-based, three-day autism surf camps in nearby San Diego this summer. Isaiah’s Surf Camps will run July through August.
Registration is required to participate. Visit paskowitz.com for more information.
Various Summer Programs – Lake Forest
From socializing and swimming to workouts and music, the City of Lake Forest is hosting a variety of special needs-related classes this summer. Its social group for children on the autism spectrum will focus on emotional, social and behavioral growth. Language, play, and problem solving are among the areas that will be addressed. The Special Fishies Aquatic Freedom program strives to help kids develop a love for the water through a class designed for high needs and autistic kids, as well as those with sensory processing disorder.
Other programs include a stroller workout program which allows parents to exercise and make new friends while their special needs children come along for the ride. The Music for Special Needs Children program helps nurture innate musical abilities while working on important life skills such as socializing and communicating. Kids will sing, play instruments, participate in musical stories and play with puppets and props.
Parents interested in learning more can visit the city’s special needs resource fair, happening April 29 at the Lake Forest Sports Park Commons, 2800 Rancho Parkway, Lake Forest.
Segerstrom Center for the Arts – Costa Mesa
Segerstrom’s new dance school for children with disabilities will run its first series of summer classes this year. All kids are welcome – whether they’re disabled or not – and are taught in groups of eight to ten.
Segerstrom touts its new school as a place where students, aged four to twelve, can explore the arts through music, movement and creativity.
“The center has an unshakable resolve to meet the diverse needs of children throughout Orange County,” says Segerstrom President, Terry Dwyer. “We knew we wanted to expand our music and dance class offerings further into the community with a specific focus on creating an all-inclusive school where children with disabilities and those that are developmentally typical can share a creative space to explore the joys and benefits of movement and live music.”
Current classes will continue through the end of June. Summer classes are expected to run from late July through August.
PRIDE Learning Center
Newport Beach, Mission Viejo
Summer break is often regarded as a time to kick back and unwind. But it can also be used as an opportunity to catch up and get ahead on the coming school year.
PRIDE Learning Center, which has two Orange County locations, offers a summer program that helps students with learning disabilities score a “giant boost in their weakest areas”. It works with kids with speech delays, dyslexia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and other learning challenges.
PRIDE’s summer program, the most popular one of the year, is led by teachers certified and credentialed in the Orton-Gillingham approach. They also have special education backgrounds. The center offers an intensive one-on-one reading, writing and comprehension program that officials say can help students advance one full reading level within about a month.
Students attend Monday through Friday mornings between June and August. Officials say students respond best to the program by attending four-to-five uninterrupted weeks.
No Limits Creative Arts – Yorba Linda
Kids can put their imaginations to work through a North County arts program that’s offering creative classes for special needs children this summer. Musical theatre, dance, cheer and tumbling programs will begin running in May. Participants will be paired with buddies, who’ll offer “flexible, encouraging and individualized instruction”.
Employees are trained in positive behavior support and certified in first aid and CPR. Social, sensory and visual supports are provided for dancers, too. Most of the No Limits programs run for eight weeks; the tumbling class runs for six weeks.
RAD – Irvine
Irvine’s RAD program is so popular that there’s already a waitlist for this year’s camp – and for good reason. It is the only camp of its kind in Orange County. “It’s a special place,” says Meghan Clem, RAD’s Director of Awesome. “It’s a place you have to go to experience the magic.”
Staffed entirely by volunteers, including a team of around-the-clock nurses, RAD is the largest Orange County residential camp where kids with developmental disabilities can stay overnight without a caregiver. “We want them to have the most amazing time of growth and making memories,” says Clem. “It’s also giving the parents a break. It’s a place where they know their children will feel safe. They know their child is being well cared for.”
The four- to five-night campouts will happen in July at Irvine Ranch Outdoor Educational Center.
The SHEA Center – San Juan Capistrano
“There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man.” That Winston Churchill line may come to mind when visiting the SHEA Center for Therapeutic Riding. The center is offering a series of integrated summer horse camps this summer for both special needs children and kids without special needs.
The five-day camp offers an introduction to horseback riding in a “safe and controlled” setting, while teaching kids how to care for horses. Children will be grouped in small classes by age and ability, and taught by seasoned equestrian professionals who work with kids throughout the year. SHEA’s summer program was voted by Capistrano District readers this year as the region’s best camp for kids.
This year’s camps will run from late June to mid-August.
Shooting Stars Basketball – Rancho Santa Margarita
They call it a special camp for special kids. Shooting Stars Basketball league allows players to shoot hoops with kids of similar skill and ability. Beginners benefit from on-on-one support, while experienced athletes play independently. A third division is for teens and adults who play at a highly-competitive level. The league was started by Richard and Laurie Jimenez, who had trouble finding a special needs game for their son Christiaan, a high-functioning athlete.
“Everything we signed him up for grouped all special needs together on one team, regardless of age, size, or ability,” recalls Laurie Jimenez. “Teams were always based on an ‘everyone gets a turn’ philosophy, and they were very slow and did not help anyone grow as a player. When we had to opportunity to form this league, we developed it like any other sport for non-special needs, and offered the support or competitive level based on player need or ability.”
This summer’s league begins in June.
By Michelle Thompson