Summer Activities for Special Needs Kids

Parent Q&A

Select any title to view the full question and replies.

  • My 4 year old daughter has been diagnosed with selective mutism and I would like to enroll her in one of those 5-day summer camps for kids with selective mutism. Any parents out there have any experience with Freedom Camp in the South Bay led by Catherine Eckel or the Selective Mutism Summer Group Intensive led by Christy Tadros of West Coast Therapy & Wellness? Any advice/info on these camps would be appreciated, especially the pros/cons. Thank you!

    Hi- We've had great experience with Christy Tadros. We did do one of her camps, though not until a little older. She's made a huge difference in my child's journey.

  • I'm looking for summer camp recommendations for my son who will be 6 years old this summer (rising 1st grader). We are in the process of having him assessed for ASD/ADHD due to some mild social/emotional issues but he has no formal diagnosis currently though his main challenges are with social skills, staying focused on a non-preferred activity and often has a low frustration-tolerance. He enjoys being outside in nature, building things, gymnastics, cars and art.  He's extremely creative, talkative and curious. 

    Does anyone have experience with an East Bay summer camp where my son might thrive and explore some new interests?  Or can anyone offer any feedback on a couple of the camps we've been considering?  Particulary: Trackers, Head over Heels, Cal Recreation Gymnastics Camp, Urban Adamah, Adventure Day Camp (Moraga), Camp Galileo or any of the City of Berkeley/City of Oakland day camps?  Also open to other camps that might fit the bill! 

    Thanks in advance!

    Sounds a lot like my seven-year-old who was just diagnosed with ADHD. We LOVE Trackers. It keeps him active all day and also teaches some good focus skills because some of the activities are risky (archery, etc.) and you really have to follow the rules in order to participate, so he is highly incentivized.

    He also loved the Cal Youth camp (Explorers last year, we haven't tried any of the more focused ones like gymnastics) - it's very structured, with lots of activities, and he likes that.

    Berkeley Day Camp is kind of the opposite though, with less structure and more free play and I think that is super important too, so we'll probably sign up for that again because I think that part of summer should be spent running around outside without much structure.

    We also did Galileo last summer and he liked it but I didn't think it was worth the price compared with the city camp or Cal camp (whereas I think Trackers is so good that it's worth the extra money).

    One thing that's very challenging for our kid is going somewhere without a friend, so we coordinate with his friends from school - it's extra work on the front end, but worth it when summer comes and he's less scared and resistant about going to camp.

    Our grandson with similar diagnosis has attended and thrived at Berkeley JCC summer camp.  The staff is well trained and they allow his ABA therapist to join him.

    Heartily recommended.

    We love Trackers too and also Sees The Day with Kirk! It's all day in Tilden with lots of exploration but also structured activities and fantastic CITs who were often campers and come back as counselors because they loved the experience so much. His website is for more info.

    I just posted on another thread on how great an experience we had with Trackers for our kiddo with ADHD and I see someone else here has recommended it as well. 

  • I'm wondering if anyone has sent their kid to Quest camp in the last couple of years. They seem to have gone through a rough spot in 2013-14 when they expanded, but I'm wondering how they are now. 

    Also seeking other suggestions. Cal Camp doesn't work with our schedule, and Fiddleheads (despite what their website says, sadly!) only accepts kids up through age 13 (mine is 14, a boy with multiple moderate disabilities and no aggression).

    thanks for any replies!

    Walnut Creek's Recreation department has an excellent special needs day camp.  Every week has a different theme, and there's lots of outdoor time.  Most days they end the day by going to the pool (or at least they did the last 2 years).  My moderately impaired 16 year old son loves it, he can't wait to go again. It's a bit hard to find on their website, look under Specialized Recreation.  

    Only disadvantage is the timing - the camp gets out at 3pm, which is challenging for those of us with full time jobs.  But it's worth it, my son loves getting to go to camp in the summer just like other kids.  

  • Hi,

    I am looking for camp ideas, group classes, swim lessons, activities for my 5 year old with Autism/ Global delays.  We will be in Yountville/Napa but I will be spending time in Marin as well.  So Info on both areas would be appreciated!  Thanks!

    Look into Taylor Family Foundation camp in summer - near Livermore at Camp Arroyo. Good luck.

  • I have a rising 9th grader who is interested in being a CIT at a summer camp for disabled kids (with ASD, physical, intellectual disabilities or medical issues) .  Does anyone know of opportunities for a young teen to be an aide or CIT at such a camp?  He has functioned already as a "buddy" for kids on the autism spectrum in adaptive PE and is very effective and empathetic with kids who have special needs.

    My daughter has volunteered for public school Extended School Year for disabled students. 

    ESY runs 2 weeks end of June and 2 weeks beginniing of August. Have him reach out to school districts, they usually love the extra help  He will need a TB test clearance.

    Such a wonderful thing for your child to do! I highly recommend Camping Unlimited/Camp Krem in Boulder Creek. In addition to their summer camp program, they do many events in the Bay Area throughout the year. I did some volunteering with them while in high school and loved it.

    I'm sorry for the late reply.  Your son sounds like an awesome kid to want to help others!  In addition to looking at camps themselves, your son might want to look for positions as an aide to individual kids. There are many children who need additional support to attend camp with neuro-typical kids. I have a child who needs this kind of summer support and so am familiar with the process. Often the aide is a high school or college age young adult who is hired directly by parents, not the camp.  The aide attends camp with the child and act as a buddy who provides support as needed, blending in with the other CITs at camp as much as possible.  Aides need to be reliable and able to spot when support is needed - as well as a good communicator with adults.  Not dissimilar from what is needed in a typical summer camp counselor.  Most parents will start looking in early March for support aides and often use local online hiring sites such as Localwise and BPN - I will be starting my own search soon.  Feel free to contact me if you would like more information on how this works.  


    I am also seeing this a bit late, but my HS daughter helped out at a special needs camp in Lafayette called Camp We-Go for the past 2 summers. They have two 2-week sessions and ask CIT types to commit to at least a 2-week session (usually they are run in July).

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Good camp for 5-year-old with speech delay?

May 2016

I am looking for summer camp programs in Berkeley that will be good for an active, happy five-year-old whose speech delay can make it hard for her to socialize and make friends quickly. She's been in the same preschool for three years with teachers who know her and help her, but she starts kindergarten in September and a little short-term socialization outside her comfort zone might help with the transition. Maybe it's a dance camp, or a day camp with a particularly great staff, or a camp where the kids are so active it doesn't matter that she is a little hard to understand. All recommendations very welcome. Thanks! Momella

Steve & Kate's! Locations in Oakland and Berkeley. Super active camp with tons of FUN activities (child-directed). It's been a great fit for my 1st grader with ADHD and socialization challenges. I've been very impressed with counselors vs other camps we've gone to. Additionally, for the younger set (including my incoming kindergartner), they'll have a dedicated space and staff for them to take a break and get some quiet time away from the older kids. shauna

Need summer camp/school for dyslexic 8 yr old

Jan 2015

My daughter has dyslexia but has come a long way and reads reasonably well now. I want to put her in summer school program that offers reviews of math, reading, writing, spelling, as well as fun stuff--such as sports, art, etc. We live in Berkeley. Does anyone have recommendations. She is 8 and is in 3rd grade this year. berkeleymom

My daughter has been attending Raskob Summer Institute summer program for three years, since she was in 2nd grade. It is a full day 9-3 program with academics and 1:1ed therapy in the morning, lunch, and then swimming and more ''camp'' like activities in the afternoon. They are probably accepting applications for summer soon, if not already. Check out their website or email the Clinic Director, Polly, at mayer [at] Daphne

Day camps for special need children

July 2011

I am looking for a day camp for the month of August for my developmentally delayed 8 year old child.

The Family Resource Network of Alameda County publishes a list of recreational activities (including residential and day camps/programs) for special needs children. You can access the list by going to the website: and downloading the 'Summer Recreation List' (updated 4/27/11). Anne

Camp for 6 year old with learning disabilities

March 2011

Hello, my 6 year old daughter was just diagnosed with dyslexia and and a language processing disorder. We are trying to find a summer camp for her that would focus on teaching learning skills for kids like her. We are pretty stumped and are looking for any suggestions in the East Bay. We looked into Quest, but they are a camp focused on social interaction, which does not seem to be too much of a problem for her yet. Any help would be much appreciated! lost!

The Raskob School in Oakland has a summer program. I don't know if they take kids as young as six, but you should give them a call. Ann

Does 6-year-old need an aide for summer camp?

March 2010

My son 6 year old has attended various YMCA camps for summer and spring & winter break camps. He did okay, but he could have done better (he has social skills problems as well as having sensory processing dysfunction) and so there were some problems. This year as part of his IEP he has an aide in the classroom. I've spoken to one YMCA which said that if he has an aide in school, he would need an aide at camp too. This will mean paying the salary of a person which might be very expensive.(He is not a client of the Regional Center which I believe has paid for aides.) Does anyone have experience with aides at camps,especially how you found them and what you paid them? Second, has anyone whose child has had an aide at camp tried sharing the aide with another camper? Any and all creative solutions would be welcomed. Mom looking for best camp experience for child.

Hi, I am having the same issues this year with camp. My son uses a wheelchair and needs extra support and I dread hiring an aide. I don't have answers for you but several things I have found as alternatives upon brainstorming.

1. The City of Berkeley has an Inclusion Day Camp at James Kinney Park that is fully supported and very inexpensive.

2. The Berkeley YMCA is trying out a Special Needs Camp this year (1 week only but fully supported aide-wise).

3. Family Resource Network is hosting a Special Needs Rec Fair in anticipation of camp season April 10th 11-3PM in the Bananas parking lot Claremont Ave in Oakland.

4. As far as aides are concerned, I would not expect to pay the same as a union permanent hire position in a school district. Try looking for aides in training for OT, PT, Special Ed, Home Health Aide or Nursing certificates, depending on how much support your son needs. It may be just the kind of hands-on experience their resume needs, making pay less of an issue. If your son really just needs extra social support getting involved, how about a really cool Cal student who might draw other kids in? Just some thoughts, hope it helps (and really hoping you get a lot of responses b/c I will read them all!). Rebecca

Well, first of all, why is he not a client of the Regional Center? If he has an IEP he will most likely qualify for RCEB services, and they will pay for ''support in a community setting,'' or at least put some money towards helping you pay for an aide, as well as paying you ''respite.'' It's also possible that your school district could help with the cost, depending on which district you're in.

I'm curious, the YMCA you spoke with said he would need an aide because he has one in the classroom, but do YOU think he needs an aide or is that just their policy? What kinds of problems did he have without one?

To answer your question, though, my son has had an aide at various summer camps throughout Berkeley for the past 6 years. I've been very lucky to have found wonderful people on Craigslist; last year I put out an ad and got 100 resumes (!!) I've paid them varying rates depending on their experience, but never less than $18/hour. I have not shared an aide with another child, at least not one that has worked for me (my son shares his classroom aide with another child).

Hope this is helpful. Feel free to contact me directly if you have any questions. Jill

Camp that will accept special-needs 8 year old

Feb 2010

I am looking for summer programs that are willing to accept my special-needs 8 year old. I can provide a full time aide for him, so he shouldn't be too much of a burden on the staff. My son has PDD-NOS, low muscle tone, and is academically delayed. Although he is 8 years old, in many ways he is more like a 5 or 6 year old. (Unfortunately he is also a gigantic 8 year old, so he looks like he is 9 or 10). He loves cars, trains, and computers, but I would actually prefer a camp that involves other thing - maybe animals? His fine motor skills are truly terrible, at age 8 he can barely write his name, so an art camp would probably be frustrating and demoralizing for him.

Any ideas? He is hurt and saddened that he can't go to the academic camp that his gifted sister and best friend both attend, I would really love to find something that he could do!

I am not sure if it would work for your situation, but my son who has multiple physical disabilites, but no developmental delays, has been welcomed and supported at the UC Berkeley Blue Camps . He usually does the sports and arts track so he gets a break from all the physical stuff over the course of the day.

For the past three years they have accomodated his needs and been very supportive (especially when all the kids kept asking him about his leg braces). I was very nervous to call and ask them to accomodate him because I had been told no by other private camps (made my son sad because he wanted to go to a acting/storytelling camp). The staff at Cal has been amazing and my son loves going there. Sarah

Hi, I have a son with Asperger Syndrome who has attended Lawrence Hall of Science camps and Sarah's Science with an aide. My son didn't like Sarah's Science all that much but they were happy to have him with his aide and it worked just fine. The Lawrence Hall of Science has been very understanding and worked well with the aide and my son. Now that he has attended a few camps there he has even done some without the aide. laura

Academic camp for LD 7-year-old?

June 2007

Does anyone know of an Oakland-area academic summer camp that would be appropriate for a first grader with learning differences? I checked into Raskob, but it is SO expensive, and Quest Camp is very far away (and not academic at all). Our son also has some attention issues that regular academic camps are not equipped to handle. Montclair mom

I am sending my son to a new camp this summer that might be what you are looking for. It's called Applewood and it's a language arts and social skills camp and they accept kids with learning differences - my son has problems with visual memory and working memory so reading is a big struggle. There is a description in the BPN schools and camps newsletter. You can find out more about the camp at or by calling 415-378-7815. The people running the camp are 2 very experienced teachers. I hope this helps. Laura

East Bay camp for 7-year-old with LD and social skills defect

March 2006

I am looking for a one/two week summer camp or program for my 7 year old son. He has been diagnosed with non-verbal learning disabilities, primarily social skills deficit. He as ADHD as well. If you know of or have experience with any East Bay social skills or NLD programs, your input would be valued. Previous posts mentioned the UC Berkeley program at Strawberry Canyon, but this camp is for 3rd graders and older. Anne

My son, who is now 11, attended Quest Therapeutic Services summer day camp last year, and has continued in their once- weekly afterschool program this year. He'll attend again this summer.

The summer camp is in Alamo, which is a drag for working parents this side of the tunnel, but I have to say it was absolutely worth all of the driving and schedule juggling. We have since found a family to carpool with (families come from all over the Bay Area), and the afterschool program fortunately has an Oakland site.

They require a minimum 3 week attendance, which is what we did. It's quite expensive, and no financial aid (at least as of last year), and the only way I was able to do it was with significant help from my parents. But again, if it's at all possible, it's worth every penny. My son absolutely blossomed during his time there; the transformation was quite striking. I'm happy to answer any questions you may have about the camp. My son also has social skills deficits, and suffers from depression and some ADHD symptoms. There are children there with a very wide range of issues/disabilities. Emily

My hand is waving in the air and I'm shouting pick me, pick me, I know the answer to this one!! The very best and perfect place for him to go is Quest Camp. They are absolute specialists in ADHD and NLD and social stuff. Hang the cost and the commute - what he will learn will give him such a solid foundation for the next school year too. And he will have a blast too. Plus you probably will be able to car pool. Go to to check it out. Anon

Camp for 10-y-o with depression with psychotic features

April 2006

This will be our first summer since our ten-year-old daughter's diagnosis of clinical depression with psychotic features. She is beginning to see some relief from symptoms and is medication- compliant and she gets to all of her therapy appointments. However, she hasn't been able to be at school for more than an hour or so--stress seems to bring on episodes.

Generally our daughter has attended various day camps during the summer break. I am a working mom and my income is crucial to our family's ability to pay for housing. This year I am becoming anxious about whether I will be able to work, due to our daughter's special mental health needs. For example, I just looked into one of the camp programs publicized in BPN, and it looks iffy: ''Requirement to Disclose Special Needs Whether Professionally Diagnosed or Not: Prior to or at time of registration, parents/wards are responsible for notifying us of a special need, whether officially diagnosed or not (ie. attention or communication disorders or if school teachers have spoken to you with concerns about your child's consistent disruptive behavior in a group setting). These disclosures do not necessarily preclude your child's participation in camp. Dismissal from Camp: There are rare times when we must dismiss a child due to behavioral problems that preclude a child from participating safely or effectively in a group. If a camper is dismissed for aforementioned reasons, there will be no refund for the unused, pre-registered days.''

I can't really risk our family's meager earnings on a camp that doesn't have the resources to deal with my child as she is now. Does anyone have a recommendation? anonymous, obviously

As the director of a summer camp, I strongly recommend that you contact the camp directly and speak with the directors before making a decision. The disclosure statement seems standard. One of the most challenging aspects of taking care of children at camp is when the family is not completely open about their child's situation. We can handle many needs if we know about them and have time to prepare. What is problematic is when parents do not disclose something to the camp, whatever the reason. We truly want everyone to have a successful, fun, and safe time at camp as, I'm sure does the camp you're looking at. Talk with them and be open so you can find a place that will really work for your daughter. Kelly

There is a camp that I am affiliated's called Camp New Hope. It's a 2 night, sleep-over camp for kids diagnosed with bipolar disorder. You can get more info at Although you child's diagnosis is different, they may be able to help you find the right place for you and your child. Just know that you are not alone; there are many parents with kids who have similar issues. You need a camp that will be on top of the medications, possible behaviors, needs of your child, etc. I recommend starting with Camp New Hope. Kaye Anderson, LCSW

Oh, do I feel you. My son was originally diagnosed at age 7 with Depression w/ Psychotic Features. Now, at age 10, they call it Bipolar even thou the symptoms haven't changed. I think it depends on which meds work as to how they diagnose. Unfortunately, after 3 years of med changes, he can still not function socially, academically, emotionally, independently. The anxiety and stress he experiences at school is incredible. He takes 5 mood stabilizers right now and still falls apart daily.

I am writing to tell you that your child has rights under the disability act regarding recreation programs. My son has a full time 1-on-1 aide at municipal camps/classes. They have to make their programs available to disabled kids. He also has a 1-on-1 at school. With each new school, they tell me no. I then put in writing that my child is a threat to himself and others. That does the trick - they can't risk it. Your neighborhood school is responsible for educating your child in the least restrictive environment which, for our kids, usually means a ft 1-on-1. If your child is only making it for one hour a day, her educational needs are not being met. Don't take this on by yourself - the school has responsibilities - write a letter to your school requesting an Individual Education Plan. Mental illness is a disability and a very lonely one for the parents. I'm sure you know what I mean.

Camp for Bipolar 7-yr.-old

May 2004

Does anyone know of a summer day-camp program that can accommodate a bipolar child? There are many great days camps in the East Bay for non-bipolar/non-mood disorder children, but so far none that I have tried has had experienced enough counselors to handle my child's mood swings. My child desperately wants to have a successful social experience in a camp setting and not always be left out/thrown out of such opportunities. I should footnote that my means are limited. Thanks. WorkingMom

Have you looked at Quest Therapeutic Camp? They also have an after school program at Hillcrest in Oakland. Their phone # is 925-743-1370. They are fantastic.

The Family Resource Network published a list of camps for children with special needs. Their number is 510-547-7322. Also, there was a camp at the recent Camp Fair at the Scottish Rite Center in Oakland that was specifically for your type of situation and I can't remember the name. You might contact the group that put that on (Association of University Women?). Sorry I can't remember more specifics. Joan

For disabled kids

Also see Childcare Programs for Disabled Kids

  Most recreation programs should be designed to be suitable for children with as well as without disabilities, IMHO.  To this end, I convinced the City of Santa Cruz to provide aides, interpreters, or equipment -- anything that's needed to make it possible for anyone to participate in any recreation program they sponsor.  (This was pre-ADA.) Santa Cruz went on to make many wonderful improvements in recreation programs and facilities. I've just moved to Berkeley, and have been shocked how backwards things are here, considering the town's reputation.  Anyway, I wanted to thank you for bringing up this issue in this forum. I'm amazed that none of the brochures I've seen for programs indicate their accessibility.  One of my children has CP, also, and is 15. How old is your son? Does he attend school?  Have you had any trouble finding childcare?  Susan   

July 1996

Re: Summer Programs for Disabled Kids

BANANAS (510 658-7101) and Family Resource Network have a handout of summer programs that welcome disabled kids. Some are just for kids with disabilities while some are integrated programs. My daughter, who is blind, enjoyed the Berkely-Albany YMCA summer program. I don't know where you live, but there also is a summer program just for kids with disabilities sponsored by the Walnut Creek Specialized Recreation division of their Parks and Rec Department- kids come from all over the bay area. My daughter (we live in Oakland) will be going for the first time next week. It's hours are 9-3:30 (no extended care).
See also: YMCA Programs Dianne

March 1996

In response to Susan's request for summer programs for teens, I suggest she contact BANANAS in Oakland (510) 658-7101. Although they are mainly a child referral/childcare training organization, they have a great deal of information, flyers,etc on summer programs in the Bay Area. You should just go in and browse their info. Also, I have a daughter with a disability like Susan's, and BANANAS has a wonderful program to assist parents of kids with disabilities find childcare/summer programs and to provide information and assistance to the childcare/summer program itself to facilitate integrating your child into the program.