Cincinnati Family Magazine

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February 3, 2023

Special Camps for Special Kids

Summer’s a great time for kids to experience camp — and kids with special needs are no exception. With summer just a few months away, book your child’s adventure NOW. Here are some local options.

When searching for a summer program for your child, it’s important to find one that focuses on your child’s interests and that can meet his developmental and medical needs. Finding a camp that fits your child’s needs helps him maintain current skills while building new ones and having fun making new friends! It can also help make returning to school in August smoother as kids have participated in structured activities over their break.

There are a wide variety of camps available for kids with special needs in the area. These camps include ones with inclusion opportunities; ones for specific medical needs and more. Some are free and some have associated costs. Luckily, there are many options for funding. Some camps offer scholarships or financial aid, and if your child is DD eligible (contact your local Board of Developmental Disabilities), you can use Family Support Service dollars towards camps. It is important to start planning early for summer programs, as many have limited availability and fill quickly.

Mayerson JCC Camp at the J
This fully inclusive camp for grades K – 10 offers 1:1 advocates at no additional charge. These staff members have comprehensive training in working with children with physical and cognitive disabilities. The 1:1 advocates allow children with special needs to be fully included in the camp setting with fellow campers. They use a holistic approach to enhance skills, build self-confidence, develop social connections, and foster independence. Campers receive a full assessment, written goals and evaluation of progress. To discuss having an inclusion advocate, contact Ari Handel, Special Needs manager at

Camp Flame Catcher
This camp offers a typical camping experience for children with epilepsy. Kids participate in camp activities such as swimming, archery, hiking, arts and crafts and more. It’s a great opportunity for kids with epilepsy to meet and build relationships with other kids with epilepsy. The camp is held at Camp Kern in Warren County and it is run by trained epilepsy specialists. The summer camp is $375 and is July 10 – 14. Financial assistance is available through camp supporters. An equine therapy camp called Camp for Champs is also for epileptic kids: it takes place at The Shane Center in Centerburg, Ohio. Camp for Champs runs June 27 – 30, and is designed for ages 7 – 16.

The Center for Courageous Kids (pictured above)
Operating year round, this camp offers FREE weekend retreats as well as summer camps for kids battling an illness or disability. There’s an on-site medical center and kids can participate in horseback riding, swimming, fishing and more. The facility also has a bowling alley, climbing wall, theater and gymnasium. The week-long summer camps are illness specific. This gives kids the opportunity to meet and relate with other kids that face similar struggles.

Children’s Home of Cincinnati’s Camp-I-Can
For more than 30 years, this camp has offered a fun-filled 10-week camp for ages 5 – 12. Kids must have completed a year of kindergarten. Camp-I-Can is open to kids with and without special needs, as long as the camp is able to meet the needs of the child. Camp-I-Can is a licensed child care program with CPR and First Aid trained staff. The staff has degrees in Early Childhood and School Age Education. Camp-I-Can costs $185/week, which includes breakfast, lunch and an afternoon snack; daily enrichment activities on-site and weekly field trips; and swimming daily. The program focuses on leadership, social skills and creativity while celebrating culture and diversity. Childcare vouchers are accepted.

A second program for ages 14 – 21 with autism and related disorders, called Ready Set Work!, focuses on the development of social and vocational skills for employment. Young adults will think about what kind of work they might like to do, assess their skills and aptitudes, and receive training through hands-on partnerships with local businesses. Staff provides support through low ratios to ensure the growth of independent and functional skills. Ready Set Work! meets from 9 a.m. – 3 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays July 5 – Aug. 4. Call 513-272-2800.

Cincinnati Center for Autism
There are many summer enrichment opportunities offered through Cincinnati Center for Autism including Camp Ability, field trips, extended school year sessions, Outdoor Adventure Camp, as well as appointment-based services. Last year the Outdoor Adventure Camp was held for one week for ages 7 – 21 while Camp Ability was open to ages 3 – 21. Last year the camp ran for nine weeks for full and half-day sessions and parents had the option of signing up their kids for some of the weeks or all nine weeks. They also offered special events or field trips each week. Kids are placed into small groups with a 1:1 or 1:3 ratio depending on your child’s age and ability level.

Camps Through Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center
Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center offers camps designed for kids with specific medical needs. Camps are available for kids with cancer, diabetes, heart disease and more. Information on each camp is available on the website.

For additional local/national camps, Cincinnati Children’s provides a directory on their site, broken down by your child’s needs and interests.

Cincinnati Occupational Therapy Institute’s Camp Odakota
This camp is designed for kids with sensory processing disorders or other related disorders. Some kids avoid sensory input while others crave it. Occupational therapists design activities based on the sensory needs of the campers. The camp is open to ages 6 – 12 and provides free screenings in the spring to ensure the camp is a good fit for your child. Last year the camp was offered in two four-week sessions that ran five days/week for a full day. Contact COTI for information for 2016 at 513-791-5688.

Rio Association
There’s an eight-week summer camp opportunity through Rio Association for people with special needs ages 15 – 22. The camp runs Monday – Friday and they have a ratio of one staff member for every four campers. The camp staff is made up of students currently in pursuit of a degree in special education. Rio does not transport campers from their homes to the facility in Middletown, but they do provide transportation to the activities throughout the day. The camp schedule and activities are based on the interests of the campers and are adapted to meet their needs. It is $125/week, but family resource money can be used. For further information or registration, contact Randy Turner at 1-513-727-4078.

Stepping Stones
Day camps for people with special needs ages 5 – 22 can be found at Stepping Stones. They offer different options for attendance which is great for kids who might benefit from a camp opportunity, but are not ready for five days a week! They also offer overnight camp options for kids ages 12 and older. All staff are CPR/First Aid certified as well as trained in behavior management. Stepping Stones has three camp locations located in Southwestern Ohio. They also provide transportation to the camp facility for some of the camps from six different area locations. Funding for camp may include government or financial assistance; a limited number of scholarships are available, in addition to inclusive programs for siblings and others with mild/no disabilities.

Warren County Educational Service Center’s Camp Keystone
Students who need a structured summer camp experience can sign up with Camp Keystone. The camp, located in Mason,  accommodates students with autism, or other low incidence, and is available to families and school districts. The camp runs three days a week for three weeks in July and is designed to continue the structure of the classroom setting over the summer months to help with a smooth transition in the fall. The camp is also run by Warren County ESC Social Communication Program intervention specialists who are experienced with students with intensive needs. For information, contact Michelle Hight at

Great Miami Valley YMCA’s Camp Campbell Gard
Overnight and day camps at Camp Campbell Gard are designed for ages 7 – 22 with special needs. They provide inclusion opportunities through an integrated camp schedule which offers a wide variety of traditional camp activities including horseback riding, mountain biking, high/low ropes courses, sports, and crafts, as well as a horse camp.

About the Author

Tina Pratt

Tina Pratt is the mom of two littles. She is a former PreK- 5 special education teacher that now works as a behavior coach. She enjoys being a tourist in her own town and finding ways to embed lessons into everyday fun!