Skip to main content

Traditional Camp vs. Special Needs Camp


Summer camp helps build self-confidence, independence, communication skills, problem-solving skills and so much more! Not to mention, it is a chance to have amazing adventures and make lifelong friends. However, if your child has ADHD or other learning challenges, the idea of summer camp may bring about some concerns. “Will my child make friends?” “What happens if he shuts down? Will they send home?” “What if she gets homesick?” These are all valid concerns and may lead you to look into a special needs camp vs. a traditional summer camp.

Every child deserves to have a positive summer camp experience. At SOAR, we specialize in serving kids with ADHD and other learning disabilities. We don’t focus on these diagnoses while they’re at camp, but more importantly, we don’t let them get in the way of their experience. We focus on our camper’s strengths and help them work through areas of challenge. Campers leave SOAR with the same great skills as everything camp–feeling more self-confident, more independent, and excited about their new adventures.

If you are still trying to decide what type of camp setting will work best for your child, here are some of the biggest differences between a traditional summer camp and a special needs camp like SOAR. We also encourage you to speak with the camp your are considering to make sure they will be able to meet your child’s specific needs. We promise there is a camp out there for your child!


Staff to Camper Ratio

ACA requires that all accredited camps follow the following ratios depending on age: (6-8 years old, 1:6 ratio), (9-14 years old, 1:8 ratio), (15-17 years old 1:10). Some traditional campers do offer a lower staff to camper ratio than ACA requires. Camps that serve special needs populations are still only required to follow ACA guidelines, but they usually offer an even lower staff to camper ratio. At SOAR, no matter the camper age, all courses operate with a minimum staff to camper ratio of 1:4, or 2 staff for each group of 8 campers. There is also always additional staff available to offer assistance, as well as a Course Director overseeing each course. If your child generally needs extra support at home or at school, then a lower staff to camper ratio will increase your child’s success.

Daily Structure

Traditional summer camps typically take place on one large property, with many activities available for kids to participate in each day. Campers may choose their activities prior to camp or upon arrival. Each day is structured similarly with chosen activities incorporated each day at specific times. At SOAR, campers choose their course which has a main activity (i.e. Backpacking, Horseback Riding, etc.) along with other activities such as rock climbing, whitewater rafting, and others. Campers are given little choice in activities and times, which is actually a good thing! All activities are pre-planned and pre-scheduled. Campers also do all activities together as a group. Campers do not need to worry about getting from point A to point B independently but are guided by their staff through the day’s schedule.

Goal Setting

There is no denying that summer camp helps kids build independence, self-confidence, interpersonal skills, critical thinking skills and so much more. Being away from home in a new environment helps foster this growth. With technology becoming an increasingly large presence in kids’ social, academic, and personal lives, camp gives kids meaningful opportunities to engage with other kids on a personal level and with the natural world! For kids with special needs, it can be more challenging to soak in all of the natural benefits that come with camp. Some kids may be struggling in specific areas such as social skills, executive functioning, behavior management, etc, so attending a camp that has the ability to work with your child on more specific goals will increase their opportunities for growth. At SOAR, we set three specific goals at the start of camp with each camper. This helps our staff know how to best help each child. At the end of the course we evaluate progress and give parents strategies to keep moving forward.

Behavior Management

Problems are bound to arise at any camp and can usually be resolved quickly. In the event the problems do persist, a call home to the parent will occur. If a camper’s behavior begins to affect the experience of others, a camper may be asked to leave. You may be looking at a special needs camp because you are worried that behavioral issues will arise. While special needs camps are not able to handle severe behavioral problems (you may want to consider a therapeutic program for this), they will have more understanding for your child and will be able to help them work through challenges. At SOAR, we want your child to succeed! Lower staff to camper ratio allows for more supervision, which can often help prevent problems. Our staff is also trained in behavior management strategies to help campers get back on the right track. Physical aggression, noncompliance, and continued disrespect may result in campers being sent home. If you are concerned about your child’s behavior, always speak with a camp director before enrolling to make sure the program will be a good fit for your child.

Social Skills

Summer camp is a lot like school, except a lot more fun. Campers will vary in age, personality, interests, backgrounds, etc. One of the many benefits of summer camp is the opportunity to interact with new people and develop new relationships that can last a lifetime. Some camps will have 300+ campers per session with campers grouped by bunk. As campers participate in their activities of choice and mealtimes, they have opportunities to interact with other bunks and initiate new relationships. For kids who are already struggling to make friends, a summer camp environment can be overwhelming. If your child always feels like the odd kid out, it is so important that they feel like they can be themselves at camp and meet other kids they can relate to. Smaller group sizes make initiating conversations and friendships much less intimidating. At SOAR, we never have groups larger than 8. Our staff are also very conscious of each child’s social skill level and are ready to step in to help guide campers through social situations.

Leave a Reply