Cabins, campfires, camp songs, making new friends and memories: The hallmarks of summer camp are instantly recognizable and, without a doubt, an experience every child can benefit from. While camp can be a life changing experience for a child, if your child is deaf or hard of hearing, you might think that summer camp might be too scary or difficult to navigate.
The good news is that there are camps across the country geared toward children who are deaf or have some degree of hearing loss. So whether you are looking for a sleepaway camp, day camp, family camp, or camp geared toward your child’s specific interests, there is probably one out there to suit your needs.
Choosing the right summer camp
Start by considering the following:
- What are your child’s interests? There are traditional camps that offer a wide variety of activities, as well as camps geared toward specific interests such as academics, film or space.
- Are you looking for an overnight, day or family camp?
- Does the camp support the individual communication preference of your child? For example, do they encourage ASL, lip reading, cueing or spoken language?
- What percentage of the counselors are deaf or have hearing loss?
The activities at camps for kids that are deaf or have hearing loss do not differ much from other camps. There are traditional sleepaway camps for kids that offer activities like swimming, archery, arts and crafts, ropes courses and canoeing, allowing kids to learn new skills and gain confidence.
The only difference? “During swimming we use flags instead of whistles,” said Jenni Bailey, co-director of Camp Sertoma in Brainerd, Minn. “And to get their attention at campfire we use flashlights. It’s all visual cues.“ Then she laughed. “But…it’s definitely not quiet. It’s the loudest camp I’ve ever been to!”
Expert counselors and staff
With intensive training prior to the start of camp, counselors at camps such as Camp Mark Seven in Old Forge, N.Y. and OYO Camp in Perrysville, Ohio are well prepared to deal with some of the challenges faced by deaf or hard of hearing campers. Deaf counselors or CODA (child of deaf adult counselors) are often specially trained or experienced themselves in ASL. The staff, often members of the Deaf community or hard of hearing community themselves, bring to the table their individual knowledge of assistive hearing technology, and experience in training on subjects such as homesickness, safety and cultural diversity. And they often bring more personal experience with them too. “Many of our campers become counselors. As they get older, they’re coming back as staff because they want to give back,” Bailey said.
As with other camps, the activities are geared toward fun, but also toward allowing a sense of confidence and success. Kids learn new skills and develop a sense of pride. They also work on their social skills while making new friends, which can be difficult for the child who is mainstreamed into a hearing school during the remainder of the year. Since camps strongly encourage independence and self-esteem building, the difference in the children when they arrive versus when they leave can be remarkable.
“There was a camper a few years ago, and in the beginning she wouldn’t even sign,” said Bailey. “By the end of her years with us, she ended up going to Gallaudet. She finally found a place where she fit in. And I have no doubt we were a big part of that.”
At home, a child might only sign with family and not have many opportunities to communicate with other Deaf children, leading to a sense of isolation, anxiety and low self-esteem. But at camp, the communication barrier between Deaf children and others is broken down. And they realize there are others just like them.
“It’s amazing to me the communication pressure that these kids have. Here, there is none. Their confidence really improves. When you come to Aspen Camp you don’t have a label any more. You’re just you,” said Katie Murch, interim executive director of finance and marketing at Aspen Camp in Snowmass, Colo.
Coast to coast, the options for camps are numerous. From day camps to family camps to camps for hearing Children of Deaf Adults (CODA), The Listening and Spoken Language Knowledge Center offers a comprehensive list on their website. And Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf offers a full range of academic camps where kids can meet other kids and gain hands-on experience in their chosen interest, whether that is science, film or technology.
If your child is deaf or hard of hearing, summer camp can be a rewarding experience, as well as beneficial to growth and development. “I used to be camper, so I experienced the impact of the camp myself. It encourages the importance of community. [In counselors] the campers see deaf role models who are exactly the same as them. It builds their self-esteem. They know they can grow up and do anything they want to do,” Murch said.