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For kids with cognitive disabilities, summer can be a time to practice skills not always addressed in school. The more relaxed schedule may be the perfect way to try out new methods while reviewing skills gained during the school year.
But there is no one-size-fits-all answer to the summer decision, says Barbara Trader, executive director of TASH, an organization that promotes inclusion for people with disabilities. It’s important to look at where your child needs supports, she says, and to make sure that any summer program you choose will meet them.
It’s also important to consider social and emotional needs. “The summer is a chance for children to play with their peers,” Trader says. Kids can work on their social skills at camp, on a sports team, or just playing with friends.
Don’t forget to look beyond school programs. Parks and recreation departments and YMCAs often have camps and programs that can support kids with disabilities.
Trader recommends looking at your child’s total needs when choosing summer services. Seek out a high-quality program with skilled teachers, one that focuses on more than academics. “We’re doing a real disservice to children if we don’t look at the whole child,” she says. “We need to be concerned with their overall development.”
By Valle Dwight
The summer after his sophomore year, Minnick went to Upward Bound, a federally funded summer program for disadvantaged youths. For the first time, he was placed in a classroom with non-disabled kids — kids, in fact, who were whip smart. The expectations were high, and Minnick’s teachers were encouraging. They taught him differently, and suddenly things began to click for him.
Minnick immediately noticed a different atmosphere in the classroom — because the expectations were high, he found himself working hard to meet them. “Being in a class with high achievers really motivated me,” he says.
He went back to the summer program each year for the remainder of high school, graduated from college, and is now a published author and photographer.
Ann Cathcart, the mother who hated the idea of sending her son to summer school, ultimately took matters into her own hands and started a summer camp for kids with learning disabilities.
The program she created, the Learning Camp, combines solid academics with lots of free time and regular summer camp activities. But even the academic portion does not look anything like a school. Kids take their books outside to work by a creek or do math at a picnic table. And there is no homework or tests, so they don’t feel any stress.
The program emphasizes success for the kids. When children are successful, they tend to push harder, Cathcart finds, and success breeds success. “My opinion is that if we can maintain their self-esteem, they will stay motivated,” she says.
Minnick would agree with that philosophy. “That summer opened my eyes to what I could be,” he says. “The LD cloak came off of me.”
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