NYC Summer Camps for Kids with Special Needs
[UPDATED: February 24, 2013] It's tough to find the right summer camp for any kid. But if your child has special needs, like autism or ADHD, choosing a program can be especially nerve-racking. Children with special needs often shun sports or swimming, get spooked by new activities or field trips, and are prone to meltdowns when exposed to loud noises or bright lights. They also may need careful supervision to make sure they are being safe and playing well with their peers.
There are several New York City-area day and commuter camps that cater to kids with special needs so they can have a fun-filled summer and make new friends. These programs understand that these kids may need time to adjust to a new summertime routine while getting them up and moving in healthy, productive ways.
Big Apple Day Program – Upper West Side
Solomon Schechter School of Manhattan, 805 Columbus Avenue at 100th Street
This co-ed day camp accommodates kids with social and emotional issues, including ADHD and Asperger's syndrome and other forms of high-functioning autism. In addition to the usual summer fun like sports and swimming, participants get social skills assistance from trained professionals. The counselors help the kids handle the social components of the activities, and teach them how to deal with real-life situations like traveling on public transportation. Campers also receive two hours a day of individualized academic instruction provided by special education teachers. Friday is field trip day, and the kids receive daily reports about their progress to share with their parents. The camper-to-staff ratio is 3:1.
Marvin’s Camp – Staten Island
JCC of Staten Island, 1466 Manor Road
This six-week day camp caters to kids with special needs, including those on the autistic spectrum. The 100-acre campground includes two lakes and three Olympic-size pools. Participants swim daily, play sports, do arts and crafts, and go on trips to amusement parks and shows. The camper-to-staff ratio is 3:1, and the counselors are trained to work with children with special needs. Campers also receive social skills training and problem-solving exercises. Busing is available from Staten Island and Brooklyn (additional fees may be required). An interview is required for all applicants.
Camp Kulam – Upper West Side
The JCC in Manhattan, 334 Amsterdam Avenue at 76th Street
Call 646-505-5729 for pricing and more information.
This day camp caters to young kids who are on the autistic spectrum, or have communication disorders or other special needs. Campers swim and do yoga, in addition to other activities. The instructors are from the special education or social work fields, and teenage assistants keep the camper-to-staff ratio low.
Camp Tova – Upper East Side
92nd Street Y, 1395 Lexington Avenue at 92nd Street
The Y runs this commuter camp for children with developmental and learning disabilities. Each day, campers travel to the Henry Kaufmann Campgrounds in Rockland County on air-conditioned buses to take part in activities such as swimming and sports. On Fridays, they go on field trips. The camper-to-counselor ratio is 4:1. If interested, parents must first fill out an intake form, followed by an interview to determine if the camp is the right fit.
Camp Ramapo – Rhinebeck, New York
Founded in 1922, this sleepaway camp services at-risk and special needs kids. Participants do sports, swimming, arts and crafts, and have daily academic lessons in a therapeutic environment with a 1:1 counselor-to-camper ratio. The campers include children on the autistic spectrum, as well as those with other behavioral and emotional needs. Many of the kids are referred to the program by mental health professionals, and attend special education schools. A staff of mental health professionals supervises the counselors, who are studying psychology, education or related fields.
Harbor Haven – West Orange, New Jersey
Situated in a beautiful suburban school setting, this nurturing day camp's core program caters to children ages 3 to 15 with mild special needs. There's a 1:3 or better counselor-camper ratio, and participants enjoy a wide variety of summer fun like sports, swimming, nature activities, performing arts, cooking, photography, yoga, field trips and more. Special offerings include social skills training, daily academics, speech and occupational therapy, and reverse inclusion, all led by qualified, professional staff. There's also a separate section for teens ages 16 to 18 called the LIFE Program that focuses on building independence and employment readiness skills, and functional reading, writing and math. The West Orange campus is less than 30 minutes from Manhattan and bussing is available from the Upper East and Upper West Sides, plus some areas of Brooklyn. Call 908-964-5411 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more info.
The Quad Summer Program – Tribeca
54 Reade Street at Broadway
The Quad caters to "twice exceptional" children, who are gifted and talented in some areas but have cognitive or social learning differences. This day camp hides academic learning in its tech, science and arts project-based curriculum. One on one or group sessions are available for special intensives in things like COGMED, hand strength or executive function skills. Once a week, kids go on a field trip where other core strength and agility skills can be taught or practiced, like biking on Governors Island or surfing.
Surfers Healing One-Day Surf Camps – Long Island
This national nonprofit organizes one-day surfing camps, when kids with autism and other disabilities can have a great day playing in the spray. The camp was founded by pro-surfer Israel Paskowitz after he realized that his autistic son Isaiah's sensory issues were soothed by being in the water. For price and additional information, call 877-966-SURF.
Find out about other awesome summer programs in our NYC Summer Camp Guide.