Along with three children on the spectrum that I taught last year I currently tutor two children on the spectrum. The first, a middle schooler, has very limited verbal abilities. She is an amazingly sweet and gentle soul who trusts everyone, which means her parents are constantly worried she may end up going with someone she doesn’t know.
The second: an elementary aged boy with good verbal abilities, although if asked questions he will not always respond. He does not have behaviors that create problems. He doesn’t yell out, he’s not a runner, and he is not physically aggressive. He’s an awesome kid with an amazingly silly side, who will slip on my sandals before I leave and tease me by asking where they are.
I’ve had the same conversation with both moms: lack of summer programs and camps dedicated to their children and their specific needs. In fact, the one mom with the boy who is verbal can’t find a private instructor that will agree to work with him in a specific sport. She’s reached out to several. When she tells the instructors her son is autistic (even though she states he’s verbal, she will remain at the lesson, and he isn’t a behavior problem), she either doesn’t hear back or is told they can’t accommodate students with special needs.
It’s easy to deduce if the verbal child can’t find services, the nonverbal child won’t.
And I’m not saying I don’t understand (completely), since not all people are comfortable working with people who have different needs and abilities. I’m sure it can be daunting. Yet there ARE people who do. How do we find them? How do we make them accessible to our families?
I do know of some camps devoted to kids with special needs, though they aren’t always affordable or easily accessible. Also, they may be in just one specific sport/area and last half a day for one week. What about the other nine weeks of summer?
Is summer school readily available and an option? Yes. But some parents are looking for outside experiences, such as sports and community, instead of academic support in the summer.
Luckily, the verbal student has found a music teacher who enjoys teaching students with autism. Additionally, although a local community group initially told mom he may not be able to participate in swim class, they did let him have free lessons. When he got there, he flourished, and they have even invited him to be on the swim team! These are success stories, but I know from working with this family all summer that mom went around and around to even GET him to a swim class, much less to regular lessons.
If you live in a community that heavily supports our students and adults with different abilities, what are they offering in terms of camps and programs outside of the school? How are these programs set up?
I have some ideas in mind for next summer that I would like to see happen in the Tampa Bay area. I will be working on these in the coming months, reaching out to community members and businesses to see if I can help create a change for next summer.
As I do, I would love some input from others who work within this field, or from parents who have children with different abilities. What would you like to see? What is lacking?
If you are in the Tampa Bay area, are you a business that would be open to hosting camp for students with different abilities, if you had someone at the helm setting it up and overseeing it? Are you a business who already does?
If you are outside of Tampa Bay but have a community that offers great supports over summer for our students, what does this look like?