Finding more than just a camp for my child with special needs

Adam’s Camp provides therapy (and fun!) for children with special needs, and supports their families, too

Maya James works with music therapist Ryan Judd at Adam’s Camp at Loon Mountain in summer 2015.

Photo by Nicole Curran Photography.

I am blessed to be the mother of a fun-loving 10-year-old child. She is a trooper and has overcome many challenges.

She is dually diagnosed with Down Syndrome and autism and is medically complex. Three years ago the school district brought up the idea of sending her to camp. I had not considered this a possibility. For all of her positives, my daughter also has a wide range of medical problems. None of the local options were a good fit. That first year, an option did not exist for her so we went to aqua therapy instead.

Lucky for us, the following year I found Adam’s Camp New England. I am so grateful to have found a camp capable of meeting all of her needs. For her, it fun-filled camp experience, but with many bonus features as well.

Adam’s Camp is a nonprofit organization that was founded in Colorado in 1986 by the parents of Adam, a five-year-old boy with Cerebral Palsy.

Adam’s Camp New England was developed in 2013 and offers programs on the island of Nantucket, Mass. and on Loon Mountain in Lincoln. The goal of Adam’s Camp is to provide a variety of intensive, personalized and integrated therapeutic programs for children with special needs and their families in a recreational setting. The camp provides fun, social connections and growth in independence for youth and young adults.

The Adam’s Camp signature model is five campers, five pediatric therapists over five days. Before camp starts, parents converse with the therapists to establish goals for the camp. After each camp day, the therapists discuss how that day went and plan for the next day. There was real therapy going on at the camp and I could see improvement in her skills. I think the success comes from working with top-notch, dedicated therapists who are allowed to work with the team of five children and each other intensively. The collaborative approach plays a big part. Every person promotes improvement on the same goals.

The camp motto is, “When a child has special needs, the whole family has special needs” The experience is entirely family-centered.

There is a parent group that meets each morning to connect with others and participate in facilitated discussions on topics that matter most to them, or they can use that time to just get some much needed respite.

There is also a sibling program where they do fun activities during the day. Like parents, siblings also need resources and support. Developing these relationships helps siblings deal with having a brother or sister with special needs.

 In trying to pinpoint why this was such a different experience, I realized that one of the reasons was there was no sense of an adversarial approach. With the school district I was often arguing about what the goals should be. When I talked with the therapists at the camp and suggested goals I would like to see worked on, there was agreement. After sitting through many contentious IEP meetings it was a refreshing change.

On the last day of the camp, there is a show put on by the campers and their therapists, just like a typical summer camp. In addition, parents meet with the therapy team to discuss what they think the next steps should be. Parents leave with a detailed clinical report complete with photos that can be shared with the school district and other therapists. Some of the approaches have been emphasized by my daughter’s school team.

Adam’s camp is very powerful. It provides a new set of eyes and ears on problems that you care about. A team of highly qualified therapists will use multiple modalities to address these goals throughout the six-hour-long day. This intensive approach produces results.

For example, one of my goals in the first year for my non-verbal daughter was to have an accurate yes or no headshake. This goal would help her communication to be more accurate so it would help curb the behaviors that were a result of frustration. I would say that the camp experience boosted her accuracy by 50 percent. It was truly amazing.

For my daughter, the camp was a camp first and the emphasis was on having fun. The therapeutic aspect was so well hidden from my daughter I doubt that she realized she was getting speech, occupational, physical, art and music therapy each day. She just thought it was camp!

As you might imagine, an experience like this comes with a cost. The Adam’s Camp organization actively fundraises throughout the year and the cost to families is roughly half the actual cost to run the camp. They provide scholarships and work with the families to identify funding sources.

Adam’s Camp has been a fantastic experience for my daughter and our entire family. Summer 2016 will be our third summer and we hope that you, too, will consider joining us.

Emily James is a teacher and the proud mother of three children. She is the co-chair of the Family Support Council for Northern Human Services. She resides in Wolfeboro with her husband, Martin, and their children.

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