Talooli Integration Program
At Camp Talooli we believe that every child can benefit from what the camp experience has to offer. Since 1988 Camp Talooli has worked to find ways to integrate children with special needs into the traditional Talooli summer camp community. All children are part of a typical summer camp group and participate in all activities where appropriate. We have been able to make accommodations for children with a broad range of needs. Campers with learning disabilities, ADHD, autism, physical disabilities etc. have been contributing members of the Camp Talooli community each summer since the programs began.
Contact with parents:
Before a child with special needs comes to camp, it is essential that we are able to communicate with the parent or caregiver to learn more about their child. In order to best serve a child, it is important for us to understand what are his/her needs, likes and dislikes, communication methods and styles, and what types of support or assistance are most helpful or least helpful. This information can be conveyed in written form, such as the camp application, or by telephone conversations. However, sometimes it is more helpful to spend time with the child and his/ her parents ahead of time at home or in the camp environment. A copy of the child’s current Individualized Education Plan (IEP) is necessary for enrollment.
Strategies for support:
In addition to the information gathering phase discussed above, the camp staff has developed a number of other strategies which assist them in the support and inclusion of children with disabilities. Some strategies are:
- Using adaptations to assist in communication with children. For example, it is helpful with some campers to construct a daily schedule of pictures so they to understand and remember which activity is next. Staff members have also figured out more ways to give children some additional choices or options within daily camp routines and activities.
- Helping all children to abide by the same general camp rules, with some flexibility based on individual needs.
- Matching campers with counselors. Attention is paid to creating a "good match," personality wise, between counselors and the children with special needs.
- Supporting counselors who have a child with disabilities in their cabin/group in ways such as:
- pre-camp training (for all counselors and camp staff)
- sharing information between counselors and program staff
- providing an extra counselor for support, when needed
- teaming counselors together, one of whom may know the child from a previous year, may have supported children with disabilities in the past, or just may feel more comfortable doing so
As additional support to our children with special needs Camp Talooli has taken part in a collaboration with Transitional Living Services. TLS has been a means for support to our integration program since 1988. With their help we are able to give both the integrated and typical campers the best possible experience at camp.
In 1998 Camp Talooli also began a collaboration with the Onondaga County Mental Health Day Treatment Program at Cedar Street. This collaboration brings children with emotional difficulties out to camp with the staff that work with them throughout the year.