active family travel,  Adoption and Family,  Health,  infertility,  parenting,  special needs

Hoping for Okay: Sending A Special Needs Child To Camp

Sending kids with special needs to camp is never simple. You have to vet camps hard to find one that might be capable of handling your children. Oh I know most make mention of inclusive policies and such. But, I have seen how this works in practice sometimes and it doesn’t. So, forgive me while I hold my breath and pray that this camp works this time.
This morning, I woke fingers crossed and holding my breath. Today I have both kids at camp. No fires to put out. No demands beyond work. No calls from the camp stating: “What were you thinking? Come and get your kids right away.”
My husband and I were married nine years before we adopted our first beautiful baby girl. We were in our thirties. We waited, we struggled, we adopted. We woke to Christmas morning every day for the first 2 1/2 years of Payton’s life and, then we did it all over again. Second baby girl was never the same as the first. She was diagnosed with special needs by age 3. She was a survivor, but also the one who needed us constantly.
This year I agonized over sending a child with special needs to camp. Was she ready? Wasn’t she ready? When you are a parent you sometimes wonder about when and where and how these little people will survive when you are gone. This year I have started to understand that concept in a different way than I ever did before.
When you are an older parent, you think about that more than the average 28 year old Mom and Dad. How old will I be when she is in university or college? How old will I be at her wedding? Will I be healthy enough to see my grandkids, to enjoy my grandkids? These are impossible questions of course. But still, it is a parent’s lot to agonize over these things, to do their best preparing their child to exist some day without them. In the end, if we have done our jobs well, I know Payton will find her place, build her own life and be simply something magnificent.

Our Story

Parenting Children with Special Needs

Parenting Ainsley has always been different. Parenting children with special needs is a minefield of potential heartbreak and tragedy, physically, emotionally and sometimes financially. On good days you know exactly what to do, where to plug in experts and when to step back and watch her grow. Other days you tell yourself – one day at a time. But a life lived one day at a time is exhausting. It is also a lie you tell yourself to get through the very hard days. Every so often you have to pause and think to yourself at some point this child, with special needs, will have to exist without me translating and advocating, moving and removing obstacles.  


You lay down tiny stair steps where other kids can lay their own. Scaffolding, you hope, can hold her. Will it endure even after you are gone? You hire a babysitter and she doesn’t work out. Then another one and so on. Eventually one gets it and she sticks. A bond is built. First steps.  

Here is a tool that I have found very useful over the past ten years. I created an All About Me booklet and gave it to Ainsley’s camp counsellors every time we dropped her off at camp.

Something Works

You send her to martial arts and think if she can do this one thing, then maybe she will be okay some day without me. And she soars. Second steps. You try again and again to help her to read and think if she can just master the basics, some day she may be okay without me. More steps. You teach her use her words. Tell the world when something is not right. Tell them what you need, even when I am not there. Speak up. And one day she does. More steps. You agonize and torture yourself over each one of these steps wondering is it time and can she do it? What if she fails?    

Allowing Hope In

Then one day you think it’s time she might be ready to do a week away at camp with support. It is a big step. A grand daddy kind of step. A huge adjustment for many kids, but for yours, it’s not just camp. Sending a child with special needs to camp is simply more.

Just Maybe This Works

It’s the rest of her life. It’s knowing that this week if she makes it, if someone else can anticipate and negotiate and manage and handle and care for, and maybe even learn to enjoy her, then she might just be okay.

Mom of two beautiful active girls, traveller, fitness junkie, social media consultant, and keeper of the sanity.


  • GayNYCDad

    I have an adopted child and feel that there is no bigger blessing than parenthood, and no harder job, no matter the child. Mine may not be on any spectrum per se, but I get calls several times a week, and at 10 years old it does not look like that will ever let up. But taking those calls and dealing with them is my purpose. Mitch

  • Jodi Shaw

    Love this post! I worry all the time about my son, is he ready for things, having special needs. I love what you said Parenting children with special needs is a minefield of potential heartbreak and tragedy, physically, emotionally and sometimes financially, because it’s so true!

  • Jamie

    I hope she has an amazing week at camp!! Some of my best childhood memories come from summer camp! Parenting is hard, and I can only imagine how hard it is when there are special needs involved.

  • Christine McN

    Love this post, Paula! You’re doing fabulously and she will have so much fun at camp! Big step for your daughter and for Mama!

    When I was in high school and in college, I worked at a summer camp for kids. We had campers who had special needs, and though they weren’t without the occasional issues (overstimulation, anxiety, etc), they had a blast! Everything went well and come end of camp season, no one wanted to say goodbye! Camp is quite possibly one of the best things a kid can experience. So many lessons learned at camp. Friendship, cooperation, team work, independence, and more! xo

  • Journeys of The Zoo

    I am so happy to read that both your girls have had a chance to experience camp. While I get that it isn’t for everyone, it sure was for me and has helped shape the person I am. Everyone should have the chance to go to camp once.

    Special needs or not, we all succeed and fail. One failure (or many) isn’t a guaranteed reflection of the future. Case in point, look at how far Ainsley has come.

    You’re a great Mom and I’m sure that your drive has rubbed off on her. Adopted or not, she’s your daughter. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree…

    Besos, Sarah
    Blogger at Journeys of The Zoo