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Why Working at a Special Needs Summer Camp Changed My Life

Kelly tells all about her summer as a camp counselor at a special needs camp in the USA.

Author: Camp Leaders
18 Jan 15:05

Making the decision to pack up your life and jet to work at a summer camp in America can be a daunting prospect for anyone, and for those who opt to work at a special needs summer camp, the prospect can be even more daunting.

I accepted an offer to work as a camp counselor at a Special Needs camp, despite having no previous experience working with people with Special Needs, and I would be lying if I said that it wasn’t one of the scariest decisions that I’ve ever made. But I can wholeheartedly say that it’s the single best decision that I’ve ever made.

One that has changed my life for the better in more ways than I can count.

I’ve had the privilege of spending the past two summers working at Quest’s Camp Thunderbird which caters for adults with developmental disabilities between the ages of 18 and 80, with individuals diagnosed with a wide range of conditions such as autism, cerebral palsy and down’s syndrome.

As Music and Drama Lead, I was responsible for planning and leading daily activities for our guests.

In the mornings and evenings, I acted as a Runner in cabins durings shower duty. I also worked as general cabin staff where I was responsible for the care of the older women at camp. In all of these roles, one of the most important things that I learned is that your focus quickly shifts from the ‘disability’ to the varying ‘ability’ of each individual.

Many of the individuals that you will encounter at a special needs camp are much more capable than they are given credit for. Among those suffering from mental deficits, I cared for several guests who competed in swimming events in the camp's own version of the Olympics. Despite several adults being wheelchair bound, many of these people were the first to volunteer to take part in sports activities.

All in all, working at a special needs camp isn’t so different from working at a typical kids summer camp.

Not only does camp provide the families and carers of these individuals with a valuable opportunity for respite, but it is also the campers’ vacation, their opportunity to take a break from their everyday lives and choose the activities that they would like to do.

Yes, it’s slower paced than some camps but you learn to adapt activities and cater to the needs of individuals, offering them the same activities that you would at a typical camp. The hours can be long and the work can be challenging at times, but I can undoubtedly say that it’s the best job I’ve ever had, and the campers you care for and the friends that you make will have a bigger impact on you than you could ever imagine and keep you wanting to return again and again.

Find out all the types of summer camps available here.

Camp Leaders
With over 20 years of travel experience, the Camp Leaders team has the answers to almost anything you can think of. We're here to help you sort your ultimate summer - feel free to ask us anything.

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