Summer camp is a tradition for many children, but for those with special needs, camp can provide yet another opportunity to feel out of place.
Camps devoted to certain disorders and diseases have sprouted across the country over the decade, giving kids with special needs a chance to meet others like themselves. However, they can also leave parents with an extravagant bill.
The Helping Kids with Hemiplegia Summer Camp, in Chapel Hill, N.C., is a welcome exception to the rule.
Children with hemiplegia are invited to spend 10 days at the camp, free of charge, with their parents and siblings. Each child is paired with a trained occupational or physical therapy student, with whom he or she will complete goal-oriented activities and games.
Hemiplegia is a type of cerebral palsy that causes paralysis to one half of the body. According to Holly Holland, a N.C. Children’s Hospital occupational therapist and the camp’s creator and director, hemiplegia is due to stroke or other injury to the brain’s motor centers.
“As they grow, [kids] tend to favor the unaffected limb more over time, effectively worsening their physical disability,” Holland says. “These children struggle to learn age-appropriate play and can have difficulty acquiring life skills.”
The Helping Kids with Hemiplegia Summer Camp hosts 30 kids, ages 3 to 10, every summer, and therapists use constraint-induced movement therapy (CIMT). This approach involves constraining a child’s stronger arm, forcing him or her to use the weaker arm for at least six hours a day, 10 days in succession.
“They try to keep it fun for the kids because it can be emotional for them because they are trying to do more difficult movements they are not used to performing, but they are encouraged through play and fun,” says Angelia Noonkester-Draughn, whose daughter, Lilla Draughn, attends the camp. “This pushes the children to the max, as far as therapy goes.”
Pediatric programs that use CIMT are difficult to find, and they can cost as much as $20,000. The camp allows families to attend for free due to grants and donations.
In order to go to the camp, applicants must be able to walk without an assistive device, not suffer from uncontrolled seizures and show that they can open and close their fingers. They must also be able to follow directions.
“These kids have the potential to be independent and productive citizens,” Holland says. “I want them to think that they can do anything that they put their mind to.”
If you would like to donate to the Helping Kids with Hemiplegia Summer Camp, you may do so through the N.C. Children’s Promise website.
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