Working at a Disability Summer Camp

This blog post focuses on my time working at summer camp for children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. I got this opportunity through applying for AmeriCamp and it is something I highly recommend. After getting told at an orientation meeting with AmeriCamp that most people don’t tick the box for there application to go and work at a disability camp. I was a bit shocked when I got told that a lot of people reject disability camps and it was clear that this upset the speaker too. Maybe this is because there is still a stigma about disabilities but I don’t know. AmeriCamp were very supportive throughout my application (and all the technical stuff which I am not great at) and answered any questions I had about about working at a Summer camp. I hope through writing this is that firstly, people will consider applying, and accepting, offers to work at Summer camp for people with disabilities; and secondly, people will consider applying through AmeriCamp.

Firstly, working at a disability camp is unlike anything I have experienced in my life. I often work 14-17 hours a day depending on when the campers sleep and wake up with approximately between 1-3hours break a day. It sounds intense but it is the most rewarding thing I have ever done.

I have worked with people with a wide range of disabilities and one important thing I have learned is no disability is the same. Most campers I have worked with have had autism (varying types such as Aspergers and PPD) but other disabilities include fragile-X syndrome, CP, ADHD and OCD. The non-acceptable term Mental Retardation has been used for some of the older campers due to there diagnosis back when they were younger (which is very upsetting). Some people are non-verbal, some speak only single words, while others speak constantly. Each person is completely different and it is always important to treat them like you would anyone else. I have also worked with people who have seizures which was really distressful after seeing someone have a seizure for the first time. You have to stay calm and follow protocol but sometimes it’s really upsetting.

My job role includes personal care, yes I shower people, feed people and wipe their bottoms sometimes, but someone has to do it and these people need help. Of course not everyone needs this help. Another important thing includes making sure the campers are safe because a lot of the campers elope and are not aware of danger. I have done a fair amount of chasing people since I have been here! However, the most important thing is to make sure the campers are having fun and taking part in the activities available including arts & crafts, woodwork, swimming (most people’s favourite), nature, ceramics, sensory room, music, drama, dance, cooking, athletics and horseback riding. Some I have only been to for a brief period before, some I have spent 5-6 hours in each day.

My cabin houses campers that have behaviours, these are experienced for a variety of reasons but include SIB (self-injurious behaviour), physical aggression towards anyone and eloping, amongst others. 

To anyone that wants/is thinking of working at a disability Summer camp, one thing I would say is you have to be confident and determined, as well as able to make a fool of yourself and never give up no matter how hard you think it is because it is seriously intense. However, the main thing is that it’s the most rewarding job ever when you see people smiling and happy or when they say or sign “love you”, even when saying goodbye, they’re crying because I’m leaving. You know that you have gave them a great summer.

I hope this gave you all a bit of insight into working at a Summer Camp for people with intellectual and development disabilities.

– Jamie Arathoon