Summer Camps

What a nightmare!  Finding a summer camp for a typical child can be difficult; then add a child under 5 that has a developmental delay or a diagnosed condition.  I dream about the day that early intervention is really supported and funded so that children under 5 that are placed in the public school programs can access a real summer program for the needs of their child.  Dreams can come true….right?

summer camp

For now, these are the best suggestions for looking for a summer program.


  • ESY- (extended school year)

(laughing)  Common sense that children with developmental delays should qualify for this service.  NOPE.  It’s hard, confusing and inconsistent to get a decision on qualifying for ESY.  It’s down right criminal to treat preschool children with language, occupational, global delays, etc… with no support services for the almost ten weeks of summer.  Then if the team decides that the child meets the requirements it varies on what services the child can actually get.  This program is typically only three hours a day also.  Leaving working parents with trying to determine after school care.

  • Summer Camps for ages 3,4,5

Finding a summer camp for a preschool aged child is nearly impossible.  Heck, finding a decent summer camp for elementary and middle school students isn’t an easy task either.  Add finding a summer camp that will take my ASD son!  Then there is the cost.  Most parents understand paying to send their kids to summer camp for fun and field trips.  For parents with special needs children, we are already maxed on therapy and medical expenses and then we have to pay for a safe place during summer that most likely will not know how to deal with our children.  Many parents don’t tell camps or centers that the child even has special needs.  Because this population and age group is so undeserved many parents are left with few choices and decide to not tell everything about their child so that they have a place to start summer.  I know that this doesn’t seem right but working parent(s) are sometimes in survival mode and have to do whatever they can to make it work.


  • Camps for Special Needs

In Pinellas County I know of three camps for children with autism.  Camp Coast at the YMCA in Clearwater, PARC Autism/Sensory Integration Camp in St. Petersburg (Tyrone) and Summer on the Spectrum with South Pinellas Autism Project (SPAP) in St. Petersburg at the YMCA (Gills Branch).  The only one of these three that takes children under the age of five or kindergarten is PARC.  PARC takes ages 3-9. I have done research and it does seem that Hillsborough has several camps as well.   Many parents would have to drive out of their way to get their child to one of these special needs camps in order to get to and from work daily.

Often, parents make these choices because it is better piece of mind each day.  Special needs children often fall victim to abuse because they speak less or have poor communication skills to report what happened.  Depending on a child’s needs many children often run or try to escape when in uncomfortable environments or to simply get attention. Without proper training this relationship can lead to unsafe camp environments and often lead the camp to ask parents/children to leave for safely concerns.  Even though the child is in need the complete lack of services and access to appropriate environments is giving us a huge continued at risk population.

  • Therapy centers

If you are using a therapist, reach out the facility and ask if they can extend hours or have programs available.  Check with We Rock the Spectrum in Clearwater/largo for camps and classes.  Also, check the therapy center next door Creative Behavior Solutions for great ABA therapy and other summer therapy alternatives.

The other way to use therapy is to ask for a shadow in a typical summer program.  The city parks and recreation centers have affordable summer camp options and often an ABA therapist can spend hours each day with the child to help support and transition the child into the summer program.



Summer is a very difficult time, I sympathize with all parents and their choices.  Whatever, you decide; have a back up plan.  With our special needs children you never know what will or will not work.  I hope that everyone has a happy and successful summer.

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