It may be the middle of winter, with snow pants and mittens cluttering our entryways, but as many families know, it’s also the time to start signing up for summer camp!
Summer camp can be an excellent way for a child to learn new skills—from teamwork to environmental stewardship—and expand their self-confidence. For children with hearing loss, it can be an especially beneficial experience.
But for many children, being away from home—whether for a day camp or a sleepaway experience—can pose daunting challenges. And for children who are deaf or hard of hearing, questions such as “What if I miss my pet?” are joined by “Who do I go to if I need help fixing my hearing equipment?” and “What if I can’t hear the counselor’s directions?”
One family of a Clarke student, seventh grader Caroline, solved the problem by collaborating with their camp to create an access plan that outlines their daughter’s accommodations requirements. This access plan can cover various items, such as how a child’s hearing technology works and how camp staff can ensure that the child has high-quality access to sound during a variety of activities.
Draw on Experience to Plan for Unique Challenges
Caroline uses bilateral cochlear implants (CIs) and started receiving Birth to Age Three services through Clarke when she was just a few months old. Now age 13, she’s been working with a Clarke teacher of the deaf for Mainstream Services for eight years.
In 2019, when Caroline was nine, she attended the former Clarke Summer Camp. When the camp ceased operations during the pandemic, her mother, Steph, started looking for other options.
Steph found a local private camp that looked promising, but she wanted to ensure that the camp was willing to learn about—and make—any needed accommodations for Caroline. “I reached out to Camp Bernadette to see if they had experience in working with children with hearing loss, and if they would be willing and able to accommodate her,” Steph recalls. “While Caroline would be their first camper with CIs, she was not the first with hearing loss or a disability to attend Camp Bernie.”
As it turns out, the camp had a special services coordinator who worked with Steph to identify potential challenges Caroline would face in a camp environment and situations her counselors would need to prepare for, including times when Caroline would have more limited (or no) access to sound, such as when using her waterproof CI setup while swimming or after removing her CI processor to sleep.
In many ways, the camp access plan is similar to the SDI (specially designed instruction) portion of Caroline’s school IEP (individualized education program). SDI is instruction that is tailored to a particular student—meaning that it accounts for a student’s disability, provides modifications or adaptations to content and encourages access to the general education curriculum. So, with this SDI-like customized plan in place for summer camp, Caroline receives the accommodations she needs to access the “curriculum” of camp (for example, swimming, archery, rock climbing, movie night).
“We want to make sure the staff have a general understanding of Caroline’s hearing loss and understand her limitations and restrictions,” Steph says. “And just like at the start of a new school year, Caroline is given a chance early in the session to give her bunkmates a quick explanation of her hearing technology.”
The camp access plan also includes giving Caroline listening breaks, so she can go back to her bunk and relax if needed, and having backup equipment and batteries on hand in case something breaks or malfunctions while she’s at camp.
Depending on each unique camp setting, the access plan may look different. For example, during Caroline’s first year at camp, COVID precautions were in place, limiting parents’ access to campers’ bunks. But Caroline was too young to set up her own charging/drying station. So the plan included a clause that her parents could accompany her to help set up her equipment.
Having the plan in place gave Caroline and her family peace of mind that she was with people who understood what she would need to have a successful camp experience. It’s proven useful in practical terms as well.
One summer, one of Caroline’s processors died while she was swimming in a lake. She was able to get to shore and tell the staff she needed to call Steph for help assembling her backup. Thanks to her camp access plan, the staff let Caroline FaceTime Steph from the camp office so she could walk her through the process. What could have been a scary or upsetting incident ended up being a small triumph. “She did great—and the moment was very empowering for her, too!” Steph says.
Create a Summer Camp Access Plan
Whether your child is headed to a summer-long camp, to a sleepover party or just to grandma’s for the night, all caregivers of children who are deaf or hard of hearing would be wise to have a basic access plan in place. This ensures that those who are responsible for the child understand the specific challenges that children with hearing loss can face—and that they also know how to help when needed.
Here are suggested questions and notes to consider when creating a summer camp access plan for your child with hearing loss:
- What experience, if any, do the counselors have working with children with hearing loss?
- Include information about when/where your child may have limited access to sound, and strategies and accommodations they can use to help ensure high-quality access to sound.
- Can they maintain a place for backup equipment (waterproof covers, batteries, secondary processors, etc.) to be on hand if a processor or accessory malfunctions? Where will it be stored, and who will assist the child when it’s needed?
- Will the child be using a remote mic or other hearing assistive technology?
- How much responsibility can your child assume for managing their hearing equipment (putting it together, charging it, putting on waterproof covers, etc.)? When will they need an adult’s help
- What activities will the child be participating in, and what hearing challenges could they present? Water activities, outdoor activities that take place over a large area, activities involving loud equipment or taking place in windy/rainy weather, can all create more difficulty for a child with hearing loss.
Once you’ve identified potential challenges and their solutions, put them in writing in a clear, easy-to-read way so that the camp team can quickly find the information they’re looking for if there’s an emergency. It’s a little more work up front, but the payoff will be significant.
“It’s definitely a time-consuming process to prepare and pack them up for camp,” says Steph. “Sending a child with hearing loss certainly adds an extra layer of complexity, but it is worth it … not only for her to grow in her independence and confidence, but also to give her the chance to just be a kid and enjoy some summer fun.”
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