Communicating Special Needs at Long-Term Camp


This article is the third in a series of three on SND planning for long-term camp that appeared in the Winter 2022 issue of Abilities Digest.

A successful camp experience for all Scouts relies on effective and detailed communication. This requires contact between the unit and the camp staff in advance, especially for campers with special needs or disabilities. The camp staff can best accommodate a camper’s special requirements if they know about them ahead of time. Communication continues within the unit’s camp site through shared activities, announcements, and signage.

Communication with the camp staff begins at the time the unit registers. It is important to identify any known food allergies/sensitivities and provide camp site location requests (not all camp sites are ADA compliant). Additional pre-camp communication should include camp medication policy, if it is not provided in the Leaders’ Guide, and confirmation of acceptance of swim tests completed in advance. Information provided to camp in advance will help make the experience better for everyone.

Once arriving in camp, assign an adult from the unit to follow up on all the pre-camp communication. This should include:

  • Arrangements with the Health Lodge
  • Confirmation with the Dining Hall regarding dietary restrictions
  • Checking in with merit badge instructors on the first day of classes
Life Scout in wheelchair

Provide the assistance or information merit badge counselors need to work with your Scouts. Make sure to be discreet and continuous about sharing information. Counselors at camp are often youth, so please be mindful. If you observe youth camp staff needing additional support while at camp, find and work with the Camp Commissioners and the Program Director to provide appropriate guidance.

In the unit campsite, visibly post all schedules and duty rosters, including those for individual Scouts. This gives everyone insight on upcoming events and duties. It also lessens the element of surprise for all Scouts when pairings are announced. You may also want to provide pictures, copies of the schedules, or a more detailed to-do list as some Scouts may need to check-off completed tasks or activities. This can help Scouts with organization and time management.

Review schedules with the entire unit and not just with specific Scouts. This promotes inclusion. You should be rigidly flexible: be well organized up front to give you the most flexibility later. You will always be making program changes as you progress through your camping experience. As a leader in camp, make sure there are enough other adults to help share the burden. When sharing supervision, it affords parents and leaders a break from monitoring and supervising. If the parent has accompanied their Scout, the Scout too gets a break from their parent, and feels connected more with the unit.